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The Imperial Serologist and Punitive Self-Harm: Bloodstains and Legal Pluralism in British India

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Title

The Imperial Serologist and Punitive Self-Harm: Bloodstains and Legal Pluralism in British India

Creator

Date

2019

Abstract

The detection of dissimulation was a special preoccupation of British India’s criminal justice system. Embracing cultural stereotypes of “native mendacity,” colonial officials believed that perjury and forgery were rife. This article focuses on another area in which fear of the false took on a distinctly colonial form during the first half of the twentieth century: blood testing. It examines precipitin testing, a form of serum analysis that identified the species of origin of a bloodstain. In South Asia, precipitin testing received unusual endorsement through the creation of a Calcutta-based official known as the Imperial Serologist. The article suggests that precipitin testing took special hold in India because of the interaction between this forensic technique, “punitive self-harm” as a mode of private disputing, and fabricated evidence in murder cases in the form of animal blood planted at alleged crime scenes. Precipitin testing and animal blood drew the criminal courts into longer disputes, and revealed the attempted adaptation of a non-colonial mode of disputing (hurting oneself or one’s kin to punish an adversary) to capture the coercive powers of the colonial state.

Bibliographic Citation

Mitra Sharafi, The Imperial Serologist and Punitive Self-Harm: Bloodstains and Legal Pluralism in British India, in Global Forensic Cultures: Making Fact and Justice in the Modern Era 60 (Ian Burney & Christopher Hamlin eds., 2019).

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