Zoya Sameen, University of Chicago

"Everyday Evasions: Space and Strategy in Sex Markets in Colonial India," Zoya Sameen

The historiography of prostitution in colonial India has often sidelined the routine life of sexual commerce in favor of approaching it as a site of wider transformations having to do with race, governance, and scientific discourse. This paper shifts attention toward historicizing prostitution as a set of practices and activities, and aims to present an ‘everyday’ history of prostitution in colonial India from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century (c. 1860-1911). Situated against the historical context of prostitution regulation in empire, this paper examines how various participants in sex markets (soldiers, civilian men, and prostitutes) strategized their approaches to sex-exchanges in order to evade official surveillance, police action, and compulsory registration. This paper further considers how local geographies, transport technologies, and environmental conditions altered configurations of prostitution across Indian towns and cities. Drawing on colonial records, missionary collections, and vernacular newspaper reports, this paper aims to present a history of prostitution in colonial India not as a concept or in terms of a discourse, but as an everyday practice that traces the contest between what is prescribed and what is practiced in relation to mobility, negotiation, and tactics of resistance.