The “Bomb Cult” and “Criminal Tribes”: Revolutionaries and the Origins of Police Intelligence in Colonial Bengal
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The chapter explores how the rise of new modes of anticolonial opposition in Bengal prior to the First World War sparked responses from colonial authorities that drew upon older colonial fears of rebellion and collective resistance. Bengali revolutionaries became the subject of colonial “information panics” which in turn informed police and intelligence work. Many colonial officials viewed the new “anarchist” revolutionary groups as murderous, religiously inspired, conspiratorial secret societies who represented a new variant on earlier manifestations of Indian criminality—thugs, dacoits (gang robbers), the “fanatics” of the Northwest Frontier, and “criminal tribes”—rather than an entirely new phenomenon. In their efforts to monitor and apprehend “Bengali terrorists,” colonial authorities drew upon nineteenth-century colonial institutions and legislation devoted to the suppression of what were regarded as distinctively Indian forms of collective criminality.