Torture and laughter: Naxal insurgency, custodial violence and inmate resistance in a women’s correctional facility in 1970s Calcutta

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This article explores the politics of surveillance, suppression, and resistance within a women's correctional facility in 1970s Calcutta, a city in eastern India. I highlight the excessively violent treatment of women political prisoners, who were captured and tortured for their active participation in a Maoist guerrilla (Naxal) movement. I argue that the state officials who formed the lowest rung of the government's machinery to supress the movement—the police, prison guards, and wardens—partially usurped these carceral worlds during conditions of social unrest to create small regimes of de facto sovereignty over prison publics. During that critical period in the history of political uprising in the region, the central government coercively implemented a series of ‘constitutional actions’ in the name of internal security threats and withdrew civil liberties from Indian citizens. Political opponents were captured and imprisoned, and prisons became a space for licensed excess. I show how women political prisoners cooperated and conspired with women convicts (the latter having nurtured their own coping skills and structures to deal with persecution and negligence while in the detention system) to develop multiple forms of resistance to the extra-legal use of authority in prison, especially in the context of a volatile socio-political environment in the city.
Original languageEnglish
JournalModern Asian Studies
Issue numberSpecial Issue 3
Pages (from-to)917-941
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 18 Jun 2018

ID: 188453952