Rethinking Concepts of Colonialism Through Histories of Forced Child Removal in North India

Dr Jessica Hinchy1

1Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

From 1890, colonial officials in north India forcibly removed children from certain socially marginalised communities that were designated as ‘criminal tribes’ (hereditary criminals by caste occupation) under the 1871 Criminal Tribes Act. This history of child removal reveals both the violence and the limits of the colonial regulation of parent-child ties, which could challenge the government’s control over criminalised populations. Criminalised people persistently resisted the removal of their children—though they sometimes cooperated with colonial officials in other aspects of familial relationships, such as matchmaking—and it was largely for this reason that the implementation of child removal was patchy. Moreover, child-parent separation in India complicates the common demarcation of colonialism into settler and non-settler forms. Histories of child removal have mainly focused on settler colonial contexts, viewing the separation of children from their parents as part of the wider ‘logic of elimination’ that underlay settler colonialism and indigenous dispossession. But what were the aims of child removal in India, a ‘colony of exploitation’? What does this tell us about the relationship between—and theoretical framing of—settler and non-settler colonialism?


Biography: 

Jessica Hinchy is an Assistant Professor of History at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. Her research examines gender, sexuality and colonialism, particularly in northern India. Her book Governing Gender and Sexuality in Colonial India: The Hijra, c. 1850-1900 (Cambridge University Press, 2019) examines the colonial criminalisation of “transgender” Hijras.

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