Open Research Seminar

Vol. 12.

Policing Intimacy and Queering the History of the South Asian Overseas Migration in the Colonial Era

  • Date & Time: 21st June 2019, 17:00-19:00
  • Venue: Ito International Research Center, The University of Tokyo
  • Speaker: Crispin Bates (Institute for Advanced Studies on Asia, The University of Tokyo)
  • Coordinator: Aya Ikegame (Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies, The University of Tokyo)

Decolonising the history of South Asian overseas migration in the nineteenth and early twentieth century must begin by challenging the dichotomous interpretations of nationalist and colonialist interpretations. It must also challenge the ideas of heteronormativity that govern most writings on the Indian diaspora. Thus, South Asian migrant workers in the colonial were often typified as immoral in their behaviour for exercising agency in their choice of partners by race and gender. This was one way in labour migration (especially indentured migration) was characterised as corrupt and in need of reform. In response, colonial governments were persuaded to regulate intimate relations amongst migrants, to uphold recognised forms of heterosexual marriage, to discourage miscegenation, and to penalise same-sex relationships, most notoriously through use of section 377 of the Indian penal code and through laws against 'enticement'. However, these efforts were often ineffective, being confounded by the diversity of social and affective relationships amongst South Asian migrants, the inability of officials to recognise the possibilities of difference, and the superficiality of colonial control. This paper examines these issues using examples taken from the Malayan peninsula and elsewhere around the Indian ocean region in the period from 1850 to 1930.