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Codes of Misconduct

Regulating Prostitution in Late Colonial Bombay

2009
Author:

Ashwini Tambe

Codes of Misconduct

How laws fostered sexual commerce in Bombay

Against the backdrop of the industrial growth of Bombay, Codes of Misconduct examines the relationship between lawmaking, law enforcement, and sexual commerce. Ashwini Tambe challenges linear readings of how laws create effects and demonstrates that the regulation and criminalization of prostitution were not contrasting approaches to prostitution but different modes of state coercion.

Ashwini Tambe’s nuanced, insightful, and theoretically precise study of the intricate relationship between law making, law enforcement, and the sex industry in colonial Bombay is one of the best examples of feminist postcolonial studies that I have read. This book raises new and provocative questions for feminist and postcolonial scholars working on genealogies of State violence and prostitution. An engagingly written study that illuminates theoretical and methodological questions that reach well beyond the time/space boundaries of colonial Bombay.

Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Syracuse University

Across the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, legislators in Bombay passed a series of repetitive laws seeking to control prostitution. During the same time, Bombay’s sex industry grew vast in scale. Ashwini Tambe explores why these remarkably similar laws failed to achieve their goal and questions the actual purpose of such lawmaking.

Against the backdrop of the industrial growth of Bombay, Codes of Misconduct examines the relationship between lawmaking, law enforcement, and sexual commerce. Ashwini Tambe challenges linear readings of how laws create effects and demonstrates that the regulation and criminalization of prostitution were not contrasting approaches to prostitution but different modes of state coercion. By analyzing legal prohibitions as productive forces, she also probes the pornographic imagination of the colonial state, showing how regulations made sexual commerce more visible but rendered the prostitute silent.

Codes of Misconduct engages with debates on state control of sex work and traces how a colonial legacy influences contemporary efforts to contain the spread of HIV and decriminalize sex workers in India today. In doing so, Tambe’s work not only adds to our understanding of empire, sexuality, and the law, it also sheds new light on the long history of Bombay’s transnational links and the social worlds of its underclasses.

Codes of Misconduct

Ashwini Tambe is assistant professor of women's studies and history at the University of Toronto.

Codes of Misconduct

Ashwini Tambe’s nuanced, insightful, and theoretically precise study of the intricate relationship between law making, law enforcement, and the sex industry in colonial Bombay is one of the best examples of feminist postcolonial studies that I have read. This book raises new and provocative questions for feminist and postcolonial scholars working on genealogies of State violence and prostitution. An engagingly written study that illuminates theoretical and methodological questions that reach well beyond the time/space boundaries of colonial Bombay.

Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Syracuse University

Ashwini Tambe’s Codes of Misconduct comes as an apt reminder that laws do not always fulfill their purpose but work in extremely contrary ways throughout their lifespan. In a painstakingly detailed yet engaging manner she traces the history of lawmaking with respect to prostitution in colonial Bombay. Written with pleasing terseness and a refreshing lucidity, the book also reflects its historical insights onto a contemporary terrain when commenting on contingent international funding for AIDS prevention.

International Journal of Asian Studies

Tambe’s book is essential reading for students of Bombay, prostitution, and their mutually constitutive histories, and the emerging body of work on sexuality, urbanization, migration and the law in South Asia.

Contemporary Sociology

It is rare to come across such a delightfully written and insightful book in the rather arid arena of law. Tambe’s brilliant analysis about laws being formulated without consideration for the practicalities of enforcement, as well as the divergence between law and its enforcement as a necessary feature of the colonial state’s actions, has large-scale application in the context of post-Independence India.

Himal Southasian

While the postcolonial afterlife of colonial prostitution law awaits detailed analysis, this book provides a vital bridge between the Victorian regulationist model and that which the Raj bequeathed to Independent India.

Gender, Place and Culture

Tambe gives us both insight into the rhetorical function of law and a detailed “micro-history” of how the law is used and misused, or resisted and reinterpreted, on the ground. An important contribution.

Labour/Le Travail

Codes of Misconduct is a welcome addition to our understanding of the laws related to prostitution in Bombay, and provides a useful backdrop for further enquiry.

Contemporary South Asia

Tambe reveals an enlightening perspective on state-based violence against Indian prostitutes that was imposed by the police, public health officials and military administrators, based on a review of police files, prison records, and census data over a period of eighty years. Tambe’s elucidation of European prostitutes working in Bombay during this period provides a fascinating insight into the women’s complex and insecure lives that were manipulated by brothel mistresses, pimps, clients and the police.

Intersections