Colonial Terror: Torture and State Violence in Colonial India

A book launch and conversation with Dr Deana Heath

A book launch and conversation with Dr Deana Heath, author of the book Colonial Terror: Torture and State Violence in Colonial India.

29th July 2021

What role did practices of torture play in the everyday exercise of colonial power in 19th-century India? What can colonial archives tell us about these practices and how they were understood by the colonial state? And what can this teach us about the relation between colonial rule, dehumanising violence, and police power?

In her latest book, Colonial Terror: Torture and State Violence in Colonial India, former ISRF Fellow Deana Heath develops a ground-breaking account of the place torture and other forms of extreme violence had in colonial India.

Combining sophisticated theoretical analysis with new archival research, Dr Heath shows that acts of violence and terror were woven into the very fabric of the colonial state, constituting not rare deviations from the rule of law but its very condition. In making this argument, Dr Heath invites us to view the colonial state as maintaining a perpetual regime of exception, in which emergency regulations and local police forces were strategically used to make possible acts of extraordinary violence and subjection. It was in such a state of normalised exception, she argues, that torture was able to flourish.

Dr Heath offers an overview of her book, with responses from Professor Stephen Legg (University of Nottingham), a scholar of historical geography and author of Prostitution and the Ends of Empire: Scale, Governmentalities, and Interwar India (Duke, 2014), and Professor Ranabir Samaddar (Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group), a specialist in issues of justice and rights in the context of conflicts in South Asia, and author of The Politics of Dialogue: Living Under the Geopolitical Histories of War and Peace  (Ashgate, 2004). Questions and a discussion follow, moderated by Professor Christopher Newfield, ISRF Director of Research.

This is the tenth in the ISRF’s series of Book Launches.