DFG Project: "Society in Prison: A Social History of Benares Central Jail and its Inmates, 1883-1947"


  • Research Group: Modern Indian History
  • Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Ravi Ahuja
  • Researcher: Michaela Dimmers, M.A.
  • Project Office: Heena, M.A.
  • Funding: German Research Council (DFG)
  • Duration: 1 May 2016 to 30 April 2019


Project Summary:

The DFG funded project, led by Prof. Ravi Ahuja, seeks to answer the question: How and to what extent did structures of inequality, constellations of conflict and processes of social change shape colonial India's penal regime? While earlier studies examined India's colonial prison system primarily as a mechanism of social regulation, the present study focuses on the question of how penal practice was conditioned by social structures and processes. In other words, it investigates the presence of society within the prison. This requires a change of perspective: from an analysis of normative debates among colonial officials on a new penal regime and of the derived penal methods the focus needs to shift to the examination of a regime of penal practice that was continuously shaped and reshaped by a wide range of historical actors.

This change of perspective requires a case study that zooms in on a 'typical' population of prison inmates rather than on well documented but socially unrepresentative political prisoners and on a 'typical' jail rather than on pilot projects of prison reform. In this project, such a case study will be conducted for the period between 1883 and 1947 on a South Asian 'standard prison', the Benares Central Jail, for the first time.

The DFG is funding this project to the extent of 266,000 Euro.