Sarah Gandee

Sarah Gandee

Postgraduate Student and Tutor

Summary: Reimagining the 'Criminal Tribe': Refugees, Repeal and Reservations in India's Punjab, 1918-82

My Research

My research interests lie broadly within South Asian legal history and the relationship between law, space and mobility, and identity and citizenship. My doctoral project traces the repeal of the Criminal Tribes Act (enacted 1871, repealed 1952) during India's period of decolonisation and the subsequent re-imagining of the idea of the 'criminal tribe' within the frameworks of postcolonial legislation, Partition-related refugee policies, and welfare schemes. Its analysis moves away from much of the existing scholarship which tends to examine the Act as an example of colonial 'lawfare' and thus roots the contemporary stigmatisation of India's estimated 60 million 'ex-criminal tribes' (or Denotified Tribes to use the current terminology) in the colonial period. Conversely, my project is rooted in the transitional decades around 1947 (primarily the 1940s and 1950s) when India attained independence from British colonial rule. As such, it examines the repeal of the Act in relation to debates on state consolidation and border demarcation, nation-building and ideas of 'the citizen' in early postcolonial India. Moreover, it explores how the communities themselves engaged with the idea of the 'criminal tribe' to negotiate their rights within India's welfare regime.

About Me

I completed my B.A. (Hons) in History at the University of Exeter (2009-12) where I was awarded First Class Honours. Subsequently I completed my M.Phil in Modern South Asian Studies at the University of Cambridge (2013-14) for which I was awarded a Distinction and the Professor Sir Christopher Bayly Prize for best dissertation.

Awards and Prizes

Winner of the Comparative Histories of Asia Doctoral Prize Competition, Institute of Historical Research, 2017

Special Commendation Prize for Graduate Papers at the 34th Bi-Annual Punjab Research Group Conference, 2017

The Professor Sir Christopher Bayly Dissertation Prize (Modern South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge), 2014

Grants and Fellowships

I will be holding a Scouloudi Junior Research Fellowship at the Institute of Historical Research in 2017-18

Arts and Humanities Research Council Studentship (2014-17)

I have been fortunate enough to receive a number of grants for research expenses, conference organisation and language training from: Royal Historical Society, Funds for Women Graduates, Economic History Society, White Rose College of the Arts and Humanities, and the History Department at the University of Leeds


Criminalising the 'criminal tribe': Partition, borders and the state in India's Punjab, 1947-55. Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East (accepted for publication)

- with W. Gould, D. Bajrange, Settling the citizen, settling the nomad: "Habitual offenders", rebellion and civic consciousness in western India, 1938-1952. Modern Asian Studies (accepted for publication)

Negotiating Caste, Tribe and Disadvantage: The Vimukat Jatis (Ex-Criminal Tribes) and Reservations in Postcolonial Punjab, 1947-2000. SOAS South Asia Institute Working Paper Series 2.1 (2017): 1-15

Dr B.R. Ambedkar and the Re-Interpretation of "Untouchability": Legislating Against Caste Violence in Rural India, 1930-1975. Retrospectives: A Postgraduate History Journal 4.1 (2015): 16-32

Public Engagement

'Why August 2017 Marks Two Independence Days for India,' History Workshop Online (forthcoming)

'Why India's Persecuted Tribes are Marking Their Alternative Independence Day,' The Conversation (30 August 2016)

Academic Activities

Co-founder and co-director of the Wider World History Network

Postgraduate Student Representative for the School of History, 2014-15, 2016-17

Postgraduate Student Representative for the WRoCAH Training and Engagement Committee, 2014-2015

Member of the British Association for South Asian Studies (2015-)

Member of the Royal Historical Society (2015-)

Member of the Economic History Society (2015-) 

Member of the American Society for Legal History (2017-) 


Professor William Gould and Dr Jonathan Saha