Wednesday, November 22, 2017

ICSSR NRC sponsored International seminar: Policing in South Asia: Dilemmas of Governance and the Making of Participatory Communities 6th January 2018 Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, India

Concept Note

The police play a key role as an interface between the people and the state. Yet despite this, studies of the institution from a sociologically- and historically-informed perspective, especially in the context of South Asia, are relatively scarce. The state has been studied as embodied in everyday practices and the interactions of various institutions, and thus as actively shaped by experiences and practices of those who perform it (Gupta 1995; Fuller & Benei 2010), as well as of the role it plays in shaping, and of the ways it is shaped by, society (Skocpol 1979, Mann 1993, Migdal 2001).The role of the police in such processes is, however, unclear, since the linkages between police institutions and structures and the socio-historical context of their operation have received little scholarly attention. This is particularly the case in post-colonial contexts in which the police first emerged as a colonial institution. The aim of this seminar is to begin to address such a scholarly lacuna by bring together an international and interdisciplinary group of scholars to consider the role of the police in shaping both state sovereignty and social order in South Asia. It will do so through considering the following key questions: How has the state historically been embodied in everyday practices of policing in South Asia, and what are the legacies of such practices; what role has the police played in shaping both the state and society; and in what way has society in South Asia shaped the institutions and practices of policing?

The seminar will explore such questions through considering four key issues. The first is the relationship between crime, punishment and state formation. Crime and social control have been concerns of human history prior to the modern era, and the South Asian sub-continent has a long history of disciplining techniques rooted in indigenous texts and traditions that pre-date the formation of modern nation-states – colonial and post-colonial – in the region. The principle of Danda in the Arthashastra tradition, for example, focused on the crucial role of punishment in statecraft (Troutman 1979). However, the colonial institution of the police as it emerged by the mid-nineteenth century discarded such traditions and introduced a model of policing based on the principle of ‘colonial difference’ (Chatterjee 1993) that prioritised the maintenance of the security and sovereignty of the colonial state rather than serving the interests of South Asian subjects. This seminar aims to shed new light on the nature of both pre-colonial and colonial policing by examining how concerns with crime control and security have historically worked out in practices of policing, and how they have been influenced by local texts and traditions, colonial rule, national-state formation and the emergence of constitutional democracy.

The second issue that the seminar aims to explore is the role of policing as a mechanism of social control and an institution of coercive power, in particular its relationship to, and role in shaping, marginal groups, including women. Marginalization is a process of exclusion resulting from material, social or gendered resourcelessness on both sides of the divide between state and society. In considering how marginalization is produced through practices of governing, the seminar aims to consider how to move towards a democratization of the means of making societies more secure, and how to ensure participation of all sections of society in the development of a cooperative social fabric. 

The third issue that the seminar will interrogate is that of the ‘margin’ as a locale. In a deliberation on policing with an awareness of the marginality that exists on both the side of the police and the policed, the seminar also hopes to throw light on the concerns of the geographical margins, such as slums, that are sought to be rationally classified and organized (Das & Poole 2004) by police work.

Such an engagement with the historical, sociological, geographical, political and administrative aspects of policing as an institution and policing as a practice in South Asia would not only address a gap in the presently available literature on policing, the state and society, but would also offer valuable policy insights into how to effectively police societies in the postcolonial world. The seminar therefore aims, lastly, to offer policy perspectives on democratic policing in South Asia. Bringing together scholars and practitioners to develop comparative understandings and to propose long-term sociological and systemic changes, this seminar would be an important contribution to the study of the police in South Asia.

Tentative themes of the seminar include but are not limited to the following:
  • Indigenous traditions and colonial impact on policing in South Asia
  • Policing and marginality
  • Gender and policing
  • Justice, Law and police work
  • Policy framework for effective policing and for generating trust

Please email 250-300 words abstracts to

Last date for receiving abstracts: 30th November 2017

AC 3tier train fares would be reimbursed to selected participants travelling to Delhi from other parts of India. International travel funding is not available. Food and lodging will be arranged by the organizers. 
If selected, full papers will be due by 20th of December 2017. 
For any queries feel free to send an email at