ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Criminal Lunacy and Colonial Discourse of Deviance and Disorder: The Case of Mappila Rebels of Malabar


Jasmin Shareena Jasmin. P K - MES Kalladi College, Mannarkkad, History, Mannarkkad, India


36 – Interrogating Deviance and ‘Crime’ in Colonial and Postcolonial South Asia


The categorization and classification of criminal lunatics in the context of colonial India is linked to the political, legal, and medical terrains of disciplinary power and the institutional intervention and carceral forms are intertwined with creating and asserting symbolic social divisions between docile and deviant subject population. Keeping this in perspective, the present paper is an attempt to analyze the efforts of colonial authority to pathologize the resistance of Mappilas of Malabar employing the nuances of insanity, deviance, and crime. By unpacking the various religious, cultural, and psychiatric explanations underpinning the British understandings of crime and deviance, I explore and deconstruct how these different discourses interacted to create the powerful legal and discursive category of “Mappila lunatic” in Malabar context. Theories of religious, cultural, and racial backwardness are employed to explain the disorder and violence that British encountered when attempting to discipline the Mappila race of Malabar. The descriptions on the deviance of Mappilas permeated by medicalized and psychiatric language in colonial narratives and was an example of how colonial authorities deployed psychiatry and medicine to delegitimize the actions of subject population.

The post colonial discourses on Mappila rebels offers a picture of confrontations of the fraught present.