Construction(s) of Female Criminality: Gender, Caste and State Violence

CPAP: The narrative of a criminal woman finds its bearings within the caste system in India. During British colonial rule, the Criminal Tribes Act, 1871 classified several tribes as hereditary, habitual criminals who by nature were predisposed to committing petty offences. Their alleged likelihood to commit crime at any moment justified blanket surveillance against them at all times. The hereditary caste system was the primary sociological paradigm through which the colonial state understood and perceived criminality. It framed specific “deceitful” crimes as the ascribed occupations of communities that were outside the order of the caste system and pursued impure, unspecific or non-traditional occupations, sometimes without residing in permanent shelters. This article explores the gendered nature of the colonial construction of criminality attributed to women belonging to Vimukta jatis (denotified nomadic and semi-nomadic tribes) through an analysis of criminal law. The first section of this article outlines the influence of caste in the construction of women’s criminality through the CTA. The second section locates Adivasi and Vimukta women’s bodies as sites of casteist state repression through criminal law and the criminal justice system, even as custodial violence against Vimukta women by the state has been erased and made invisible. The structural underpinning of this violence is negated in “mainstream” discourse. The third section details how narratives of criminality further aid and abet repression, by analysing arrest data for excise offences in Madhya Pradesh and bail orders passed against women from the Vimukta Kuchbandhiya community in MP.

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4 September, 2021
Type of Update:
Updates from our Partners
Human Rights
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Criminal Justice and Police Accountability Project

The Campaign to Decriminalise Poverty and Status is a coalition of organisations from across the world that advocate for the repeal of laws that target people based on poverty, status or for their activism.


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