Detention and Relief at Indian Famine Camps, 1876–1901
Famine in India during the 1870s and 1890s was the context for the development of British camps on a mass and unprecedented scale. In a “state of exception,” extrajudicial detention camps arrested emaciated wanderers, who aroused humanitarian sympathy but also presented a health hazard as potential disease carriers and a security threat as members of the “criminal classes”—as with criminal tribes, rootless and mobile native bodies provoked anxiety and fear. Camps under the purview of the Bombay Governor Sir Richard Temple and his successors brought geometric order to colonial chaos by containing itinerant populations and making them legible to colonial state bureaucracy. Meanwhile, dormitory camps attached to public works projects operated according to the precepts of laissez-faire capitalism and Victorian political economy. By applying a series of automatic “labor,” “distance” and “residence” tests, famine relief camps (like metropolitan workhouses) dissuaded all but the most deserving poor from seeking government relief.
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