ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

The Gentleman, the kulata, chotolok and the crimes that Calcutta provoked: A Study of colonial Calcutta urbanity


Chakrabarty Debjani - State University of New York- Stonybrook


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


This paper attempts to understand the linkages between modernity, urbanity and criminality in the creation of Calcutta as a colonial city and argues that the city breeds what it needs. The social, political and economic contours of the city are products of dialectical relations between different classes, castes, communities and between men and women. As such, this paper looks into three figures: ‘the bhadralok’ or gentleman, and the anti-thesis of “the bhadralok”, those that are integral to and yet represent a threat to the bhadralok social and moral fabric structures: ‘the chotolok’ or small-folk and ‘the kulata’ or fallen woman and the criminal world that connects all three. Scholars like Nabaparna Ghosh, Anindita Ghosh and Swati Chattopadhyay have worked on the categories of hygiene, crime and spatiality in the creation of the colonial city of Calcutta. While drawing on these works, this paper would argue that the very urbanity of the colonial city necessitated and catalysed the creation of a very specific kind of subalternity. This subaltern identity contained within itself the lower classes, the criminals and the sex worker, individually or sometimes altogether. The specificity of this class identity, criminal identity and ‘professional’ identity is made possible only because of the rising urbanity of Calcutta and the attempts by both (British) authorities and individual (Indian) leaders and patriarchs to preserve what was considered the sanctity of the same urbanity.