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Products for grant FT-259722-18

Fear of the False: Forensic Science in Colonial India, 1856–1947
Mitra Sharafi, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System

Grant details:

Truth, Adversarialism, and Forensic Experts in the Indian courtroom, 1879-1955 (Book Section)
Title: Truth, Adversarialism, and Forensic Experts in the Indian courtroom, 1879-1955
Author: Mitra Sharafi
Editor: N/A
Abstract: This chapter offers a South Asian history of the disagreement about how best to handle scientific expertise in the criminal courtroom. The debate comparing adversarialism and inquisitorialism had long raged in Anglo-American and European settings. Was it best to rely on the single court-appointed expert (inquisitorialism from Roman law in continental Europe), or to hear partisan experts present competing and often contradictory views in the “marketplace of ideas” (Anglo adversarialism)? The debate took on new shape in colonial India. When dominated by British figures like Punjab Chemical Examiner William Center in the 1870s and High Court judge Douglas Young in the 1930s, both sides of the debate absorbed colonial stereotypes reflecting the perceived imperatives of British rule. With the rise of South Asians in the professions (both legal and scientific), the colonial stereotype of “native mendacity” fell out of the debate. Medical jurisprudence treatise author J. P. Modi (from the 1920s on) and Madras High Court judge P. N. Ramaswami (1955) shed earlier English and colonial associations around the adversarial-inquisitorial debate. All sides worried about the risk of falsity and wrongful convictions—whether caused by competing partisan experts, the unaccountable solo lab expert, “native mendacity,” or judicially unsupervised police. At issue were questions about the viability and mechanics of the search for truth across professionalized fields of knowledge in a once-colonial context. The chapter is also a story about colonial continuities, because the provision of the Code of Criminal Procedure that allowed lab experts to act as court-appointed experts without being cross-examined (s.510) lives on into the present, even after its colonial rationale had fallen away.
Year: 2018
Primary URL:
Primary URL Description: Please note that my book is still several years away from publication.
Secondary URL:
Secondary URL Description: Once my book is published, I will post all relevant information (where available for purchase, reviews, relevant op-eds by me, supporting documentation, etc.) on my South Asian Legal History Resources website. I currently have the above tab on the project.
Access Model: I expect the book that is ultimately published to be available for purchase, although region-specific open access (South Asia) may be possible.
Publisher: N/A
Book Title: Fear of the False: Forensic Science in Colonial India