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CSAS Lecture Series | ‘Marriage’, ‘Trafficking’ and the Transnational Family: Moral and Legal Regulation of Nineteenth Century Women’s Mobility in the Western Indian Ocean

Farhana Ibrahim, Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology

Farhana Ibrahim Farhana Ibrahim
This paper examines the trans-oceanic migration of women between the Bombay Presidency, Persian Gulf and East Africa during the course of the nineteenth century. While their movement was subsumed by the colonial state under the overall rubric of ‘slave trafficking’, I argue that the category of ‘trafficking’—then as now—glossed over a number of trajectories for women’s mobility, not all coercive or limiting. The larger project that this paper is a part of looks at the legal and social category of ‘marriage’ as a regulatory regime that continues to have repercussions for citizenship and mobility across borders in the region. In contemporary times, women cross borders— notably from Sindh and Bengal—to marry in Kutch, now a district in the western Indian state of Gujarat that shares a border with Pakistan’s Sindh province. These marriages can be expressions of aspirational mobility, or a creative use of borders to negotiate citizenship rights in the aftermaths of partitioned territories. While some of these marriages are recognized legally and socially, others are designated as ‘trafficking.’ The paper asks: when is women’s mobility across borders sanctioned as ‘marriage’ and when is it criminalized as ‘trafficking’? What categories are used by the state and popular discourse in their evaluation of licit and illicit sexuality? How have these changed over time in a single region? Central to the nineteenth century state’s understanding of marriage and trafficking was their understanding of the legally free and un-free person. While slaves were legally seen as un-free, the state took it upon itself to liberate them, thereby criminalizing those who purchased, sold or otherwise transported them within British jurisdictions. On the other hand, this paper will argue that women and their presumed ‘traffickers’ took recourse to multiple legal discourses in circulation across the Indian Ocean region. These proposed a range of ways in which those designated as ‘trafficked’ could move along the continuum of bondage and freedom. Judgements and legal opinions from shari‘a courts in locations as diverse as Yemen, Muscat and Bombay were invoked to present alternatives to the marriage-or-trafficking paradigm of the state. In the debates over slavery and its abolition, the colonial state of the mid- to late nineteenth century, in its jurisdictions over western India, the Persian Gulf and East Africa, encountered legal and social elaborations of the family, marriage and co-habitation that push us to interrogate these anthropological categories in the present. Finally, the richly textured testimonies of these mobile women, add a refreshingly gendered dimension to existing work on Indian Ocean migration.

Farhana Ibrahim is Associate Professor of Sociology and Social Anthropology at the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi. Her research interests include the study of borders, migration and ethnographic perspectives on the state. Her book, Settlers, Saints, and Sovereigns: An Ethnography of State Formation in Western India (Routledge 2009) was an ethnographic study of mobility and place making by Muslim pastoralists along the Kutch-Sindh border in the light of resurgent Hindu nationalist discourses in Gujarat in the early 2000s. Her current book project looks at issues of gender, citizenship, surveillance and security in cross border migration in Kutch.
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When and Where

Map Weiser Hall - Room 110

October 2017

4:00pm - 5:30pm

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