‘It is impossible to judge the extent to which the crime is prevalent’: Infanticide and the law in India, 1870-1926
This article examines colonial debates over infanticide in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century India, including the question of whether new legislation should be introduced to target the crime. Such debates were complicated by Britain’s colonial obsession with specifically eradicating female infanticide, seen as a core element of the so-called ‘civilizing mission’, and the reluctance of authorities to acknowledge that in many cases of Indian child homicide, the experiences of single or widowed women facing an unwanted pregnancy had parallels with infanticide cases that were prosecuted in England and Wales. Drawing in particular on India Office records, the article demonstrates the profound impact of these ongoing tensions and concerns in shaping colonial policy and law. Ultimately, despite a degree of support for such a measure from both indigenous and colonial commentators, this tension made passing an Indian equivalent to the English Infanticide Act 1922 impossible in the interwar period.