In 1868, police within the British-ruled Indian metropolis of Calcutta (now Kolkata) despatched a lady known as Sukhimonee Raur to jail for evading a genital examination which had been made obligatory for “registered” intercourse staff.
Beneath the colonial Contagious Ailments Act, designed to comprise the unfold of sexually transmitted illnesses, intercourse staff needed to “register themselves at police stations, get medically examined and surveilled”.
Raur fought again – she petitioned the courtroom, demanding her launch.
“I didn’t attend for examination twice a month as I’ve not been a prostitute,” she mentioned. She mentioned the police had mistakenly registered her and that she had by no means been a intercourse employee.
In March 1869, the excessive courtroom in Calcutta dominated in her favour.
The judges mentioned that Raur was not a “registered public prostitute” and, furthermore, such registration of ladies must be voluntary. In different phrases, girls couldn’t be pressured to register.
Trawling the colonial archives, Durba Mitra, a professor of ladies, gender and sexuality at Harvard College, discovered that hundreds of ladies have been arrested by the colonial police for failing to abide by the foundations of registration for genital examination mandated below the legislation.
Prof Mitra’s new work Indian Intercourse Life, printed by Princeton College Press, is a outstanding research of how British authorities and Indian intellectuals “developed concepts about deviant feminine sexuality to regulate and organise trendy society in India”. One method to regulate sexuality was by classifying, registering and medically inspecting girls seen as prostitutes, she informed me.
In July 1869, some prostitutes of Calcutta petitioned the colonial authorities, accusing them of “violating their womanhood” by forcing them to register and endure genital examination.
The ladies protested in opposition to the “technique of hateful examination which is, in different phrases, gross publicity”. They wrote that these caught by the police have been “pressured to reveal themselves to the physician and his subordinates… The sense of feminine honour just isn’t wholly blotted from our hearts”.
Authorities rapidly rejected the petition.
Highly effective metropolis officers mentioned the “clandestine prostitutes” who evaded registration have been a risk to the brand new legislation. Regulating the prostitutes in Bengal was an virtually inconceivable activity, argued Dr Robert Payne, the chief of a key hospital in Calcutta. He mentioned girls must be registered with out consent.
Between 1870 and 1888, says Prof Mitra, 12 girls have been arrested each day for breaching the legislation in Calcutta alone. Authorities famous that many ladies, discovering that they have been below supervision, have been fleeing the town.
The federal authorities debated whether or not the police in Bengal might legally perform genital examination on girls “who have been accused of present process abortion and infanticide”.
One Justice of the Peace felt that “false circumstances of rape and procuring abortion will largely improve with out obligatory genital examinations of ladies”. One other argued that securing consent from girls for the examination might cripple the “administration of justice”. In a letter to the secretary of Bengal, the town’s police commissioner, Stuart Hogg, instructed girls continued to contaminate males with venereal illnesses due to the restrictions of the legislation.
However with the rising opposition to the legislation in India and Britain, the offending Contagious Ailments Act was repealed in 1888.
Jessica Hinchy, a historian and writer of Governing Gender and Sexuality in Colonial India, mentioned it was not suspected prostitutes alone who have been subjected to genital examinations in colonial India.
She informed me that individuals whom the British “categorized with the pejorative colonial time period ‘eunuch’, particularly transgender Hijras” have been subjected to genital examinations below a controversial 1871 legislation which focused caste teams thought of to be hereditary criminals.
“The goal of this legislation was to trigger the ‘gradual extinction’ of Hijras – each bodily and culturally – by means of police registration, prohibitions on efficiency and dressing in female garments, pressured elimination of youngsters from Hijra households and interference with Hijra discipleship and succession practices,” Dr Hinchy mentioned.
The Contagious Ailments Act is taken into account a shameful chapter within the historical past of colonial India.
Officers distributed questionnaires to magistrates, policemen and medical doctors on the right way to outline a prostitute.
Colonial authorities, writes Prof Mitra, replied that all Indian girls have been potential prostitutes. A high police official, AH Giles, argued that each one girls who weren’t higher caste and married might be categorized as a prostitute. Twenty volumes of a statistical account of Bengal between 1875 and 1879 repeatedly used the class of prostitutes.
Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, then a mid-level bureaucrat in Bengal who would ultimately develop into a celebrated novelist and writer of India’s nationwide track, detailed “a various array of ladies who practiced clandestine prostitution”.
In colonial India, in response to Prof Mitra, nearly all girls exterior of monogamous Hindu upper-caste marriages have been thought of prostitutes.
They would come with so-called dancing women, widows, each Hindu and Muslim polygamous girls, beggars, vagrants, girls manufacturing unit staff and home servants. The 1881 colonial census of Bengal thought of all single girls over the age of 15 as prostitutes.
The primary census of the town of Calcutta and its neighbourhood counted 12,228 recognized prostitutes out of a inhabitants of 145,000 girls. By 1891, the quantity rose to greater than 20,000 girls.
“The introduction of the act led to an epistemic shift, a pivotal change the place Indian sexual practices turned a major object of information for the British colonial state,” says Prof Mitra.
However sexual practices of males remained virtually completely exterior the formal purview of the state. Prof Mitra says the “management and erasure of ladies’s sexuality turned important to how the British colonial state intervened in each day life”.
Additionally, in locations like Bengal, the place she based mostly her research, Indian males “additionally took up the management of ladies’s sexuality in their very own imaginative and prescient of Indian society that reorganised society alongside high-caste visions of Hindu monogamy, to the exclusion of Muslims and decrease caste folks”.
On the root of all this was the notion that “deviant” womanhood was an issue that might not be simply solved. Within the course of, says Prof Mitra, girls have been “described, placed on trial, scrutinised in public view, forcibly indentured, imprisoned, examined in opposition to their will”. And a lot of this historical past, she says, resonates with what continues to be taking place with girls.