Prostitution and Everyday Life in Colonial India, 1860-1940


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This dissertation writes the history of prostitution in colonial India from the ground up by putting evasion, dissent, and disruption in the lead of understanding social and legal interventions into sexual commerce from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. It argues that law enforcement in relation to prostitution should be understood in terms of a series of failures, and historicizes how groups of laboring women, prostitutes, brothel workers, and soldiers acquired knowledge of laws and thwarted their impact through daily acts such as movement, concealment, and bribery. Pushing against a historiography broadly centered on codification and governance, this project draws on official, missionary, and personal records alongside literary and oral sources to read ordinary agents and their creative economies of evasion back into the history of prostitution in India—revealing how the procedure of empire on the ground was subject to subaltern co-option.