This article explores the postcolonial criminalization of a so-called criminal tribe in the borderlands of East Punjab in the years following independence and Partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. A small proportion of the Rai Sikhs had been notified by the colonial government under the draconian Criminal Tribes Act (1871), which marked out certain communities as criminal and subjected them to excessive punitive measures. In the years after independence, as the Government of India was dismantling the act, the Rai Sikhs came to be more conclusively aligned with the category of the criminal tribe in the bureaucratic and discursive practices of local state actors. The article contends that this process was no mere colonial legacy but rather the product of concerns that related to the contingent and uncertain nature of the early postcolonial state, specifically those associated with the newly imposed border.

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