IBA Karachi organized an insightful session on ‘Troublemaking in the Empire’

March 14, 2023: Department of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts, School of Economics and Social Sciences (SESS), IBA hosted an insightful session titled ‘Troublemaking in the Empire’ by Dr. Zoya Sameen, Postdoctoral Fellow, Department of History, University of Chicago.

The session focused on the British government’s infamous late 19th century Contagious Diseases Act in colonial South Asia, under which local women categorised as ‘prostitutes’ by law were surveilled and sequestered on the pretext of preventing the spread of venereal diseases to white British military officers.

IBA’s students of South Asian History learned with interest about how such 19th century South Asian women, in places as far apart as Balochistan, Punjab, Awadh, and Maharashtra, sought to evade such categorization and the accompanying colonial fines and control by making deals with policemen to tamper with their record. And by using rail travel to move from cities like Lahore (where colonial law was strictly implemented) to places such as Amritsar (where colonial surveillance was much less active).

The interactive post-lecture discussion with IBA’s SSLA faculty and students, moderated by SSLA’s South Asian History Lecturer, Ms. Zahra Sabri, produced many interesting questions, and Dr. Sameen demonstrated, through archival examples of women’s responses to colonial law, that this history of colonial regulation and policing should equally be seen as a history of subaltern women’s resilience and resistance by making ‘trouble’ for the British authorities.