Amrita Tulika


This article explores the nature of colonial sovereignty from a Hobbesian lens of "state necessity" by taking the example of the Excluded Areas Act of 1846. This Act was a special law that placed the Bhil tribes of the Khandesh and Ahmadnagar districts (in present-day Maharashtra) outside the purview of the general laws in the Bombay Presidency. By drawing from archival sources, including records of the East India Company and legislative proceedings, it contrasts precolonial tribal autonomy with authoritarian and paternalistic colonial rule by a British Agent under the Act. First, the paper locates its argument on colonial rule in an 'unruly' tribal periphery through exceptional/emergency legislation in the larger body of work on colonial sovereignty. Second, it sets out the nature of tribal autonomy and the role of the hill chiefs in these regions. Third, it uses primary material to elaborate on Kuar Vasava's (a Bhil tribal chief) interactions with and rebellion against the East India Company state. Fourth, it briefly explains the law-making process in early colonial India. Fifth, it analyses the promulgation of the Excluded Areas Act of 1846 and the powers of the executive under the Act as direct consequences of Kuar Vasava's rebellion, and argues that the law was used as a tool to undermine tribal autonomy and impose colonial rule. A short conclusion follows.