Police in Colonial India
A study of constabulary recruitment in the late 19th-century Bengal and Calcutta Police establishments.
The archival corpus at the British Library for the study of the police establishment in colonial Bengal is formidable. However, this massive police archive is both an entry point as well as the greatest distortion in history writing. The police archive, in the first instance, might come across as cacophonic, and yet it weaves into its folds, deep obfuscations. Of the latter, one pertains to the history of labour forces within the police establishment.
Partha Pratim Shil presents a study of the recruitment of workers at the lowest rungs of the police: the constabulary in the Bengal and Calcutta Police establishments, in the late 19th century. Using the same police archive, he demonstrates a new way of looking at the process of recruitment, and how colonial police officials had to dip in to the wider market of security work in Bengal to derive its constabulary. The operation of this labour market intimately shaped the nature of the colonial constabulary. In contrast to the frames of official documents that privilege official initiative in the making of state institutions, this study will demonstrate how the labouring world shaped state apparatuses.
Partha Pratim Shil is a Junior Research Fellow for research in History at Trinity College, Cambridge. He recently finished his doctoral dissertation entitled Police Labour and State Formation in Bengal, around 1860 – 1950 at the Faculty of History, University of Cambridge.