History events at the IHR

Sorting Boys and Men: Unlawful Intercourse, Boy Protection and the Child Marriage Restraint Act in Late Colonial India

19 February 2013, 17:15 - 19:15

Event Type: Seminar


Ishita Pande, (Queen’s University, Ontario)



While feminist scholars have extensively studied the Child Marriage Restraint Act (CMRA) passed in 1929 to illuminated aspects of the ‘woman question’, this paper revisits this singular piece of legislation to draw attention to the gender and sexual anxieties that came to be expressed as a concern for boy-protection in colonial India. First, by contrasting the CMRA with child-rotection bills that were rejected as suitable alternatives, I argue that the CMRA was favored for its successful negotiation of two (patriarchal) ideologies of child protection, one expressed in the global logic of sexual consent that was focused on girl-children, and the other concerned with local logic of the joint family system that homed in on boy-children. Second, I trace the little-known history of a slew of alternative bills on child-marriage that were driven by the gendered logic of boy-protection, to argue that these positions drew upon long standing concerns with conjugal relations within a joint family structure (for higher caste Hindus). Finally, by drawing attention to the divergence in the punishment meted out to boys and men for sexual offences, while commenting on the fundamental reference to sexual morality in the careful sorting of boys from men, and the relational definitions of adult and child, boy and man, as well as girl and woman, I argue that the CMRA formalized a gendered and age-stratified understanding of sexual responsibility. I see the various laws concerned with the prevention of child-marriage as divergent attempts to formalize a sex/age system, which in turn constituted legal subjectivities, prescribed everyday sexual conduct, and negotiated familial status with respect to age in India. By using the boy-child as a heuristic device to build upon insights on gender (as the knowledge and social organization of sexual difference) and masculinity (as a relational category relevant to understanding the gendered organization of power in society), while foregrounding age (as crucial to the sexual order and gendered organization of society), I underline the ways in which childhood itself emerged as a problem – an object of social scrutiny, legislative action and political analysis - in India in the 1920s.

Venue: Room 102 (Senate House, first floor)

Senate House
Malet Street 
London WC1E 7HU 

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Related Events: Life-Cycles History