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Sites of provocation and coalescence : Jails as spaces of rebellion in 1857-1858

posted on 21.03.2014, 11:31 by Clare Anderson
After mutiny erupted in the cantonment of Meerut on 9th May 1857, provoked by the fettering and imprisonment of a group of sowars and sepoys who had refused to use a new issue of cartridges allegedly greased with animal fat, one of the first acts of the rebels was the breaking open of the town’s two prisons. This fanned the flames of a pattern of revolt that was repeated over and again during the military and civil disturbances that gripped north India during 1857-8. Mutineers and rebels attacked 41 prisons, mainly in the North-West Provinces and western Bihar, and released just over 23,000 prisoners, most of whom subsequently slipped out of the grasp of the colonial state. This paper’s argument is that the 1857 rebellion was a decisive moment in the history of Indian imprisonment, for it consolidated the colonial jail as a crucial site of provocation and coalescence concerning British interventions into cultural affairs... This paper will suggest further that during the unravelling and reconstitution of an array of apparently culturally complex practices, fears about the ritual transgressions invoked through incarceration leaked out of the jail walls and fused with ‘respectable’ community concerns about broader changes in their social, economic, and cultural lives. The colonial prison was, therefore, inextricably intertwined with the events of 1857-8. [Taken from introduction]



Anderson, C, Sites of provocation and coalescence : jails as spaces of rebellion in 1857-1858, Crispin Bates (ed), 'Mutiny at the margins : new perspectives on the Indian uprising of 1857, Volume 5 : Muslim, Dalit and Subaltern Narratives', Sage, 2014, pp. 49-62

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Bates, Crispin



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