The village watchman, also called chaukidar, was a security worker employed throughout the vast countryside of the province of Bengal in British India. The colonial state wanted the village watch to be its eyes and ears in rural society, aiding its limited police establishments dotted across the province. However, remunerated out of a tax raised from village households and managed by village elites, the village watchman was not in a position to challenge the will of local power wielders when they violated the law. Furthermore, almost all village watchmen belonged to the most oppressed castes of the region, a feature that made it into a particularly vulnerable form of security labour. This paper is an exploration of the labouring lives of these village watchmen in colonial eastern India. It is a study of a form of labour caught in the clash and coalescence between the claims of the colonial state and the dictates of rural society.
Photo: Report of the Chaukidari Enquiry Committee 1938-40, Bengal Government Press, Alipore, Bengal, 1940.
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