In 1914 the British-built and Japanese-owned steamship Komagata Maru left Hong Kong for Vancouver carrying 376 Punjabi migrants. Chartered by railway contractor and purported rubber planter Gurdit Singh, the ship and its passengers were denied entry into Canada and two months later were deported to Calcutta. In Across Oceans of Law Renisa Mawani retells this well-known story of the Komagata Maru. Drawing on "oceans as method"—a mode of thinking and writing that repositions land and sea—Mawani examines the historical and conceptual stakes of situating histories of Indian migration within maritime worlds. Through close readings of the ship, the manifest, the trial, and the anticolonial writings of Singh and others, Mawani argues that the Komagata Maru's landing raised urgent questions regarding the jurisdictional tensions between the common law and admiralty law, and, ultimately, the legal status of the sea. By following the movements of a single ship and bringing oceans into sharper view, Mawani traces British imperial power through racial, temporal, and legal contests and offers a novel method of writing colonial legal history.
List of Illustrations ix
Introduction. Currents and Countercurrents of Law and Radicalism 1
1. The Free Sea: A Juridical Space 35
2. The Ship as Legal Person 73
3. Land, Sea, and Subjecthood 115
4. Anticolonial Vernaculars of Indigeneity 152
5. The Fugitive Sojourns of Gurdit Singh 188
Epilogue. Race, Jurisdiction, and the Free Sea Reconsidered 231
“Charting the 1914 voyage of the SS Komagata Maru and focusing on the sea, the ship, the manifest, the indigenous, and the fugitive, Renisa Mawani makes a compelling case against the European myth of the ‘free sea.’ Arguing for a new ‘ocean as method’ and foregrounding the co-emergence of maritime law and the policing of immigration, this book will rightly be seen as a legal and historical tour de force.”
Gaurav Desai, author of
Commerce with the Universe: Africa, India, and the Afrasian Imagination
“This beautifully written and richly illustrated book provides a new global and oceanic history perspective on the journey of the Komagata Maru. Ranging across theories of law, time, and space, Renisa Mawani places an event limited in time and scale into some of the large questions and themes of history: migration, mobility, maritime jurisdiction, race, legal rights, and anticolonial radicalism.”
Clare Anderson, author of
Subaltern Lives: Biographies of Colonialism in the Indian Ocean World, 1790–1920
"Across Oceans of Law is complex, comprehensively researched, and engagingly presented. . . . Each of the four chapters presents a unique perspective on thinking about the diverse and significant themes found in the examination of the changing development of maritime jurisprudence and evolving interpretation of the freedom of the sea, changing definitions of the legal nature of a ship, the status of colonial subjects, anticolonial restrictions on immigration, and the career of Gurdit Singh. . . . Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through faculty."
P. D. Thomas
"Renisa Mawani has written a beautifully conceived, deeply researched, and elegantly argued book that all of us should read."
H-Diplo, H-Net Reviews
"Across Oceans of Law is much more than an account of yet another dark chapter in Canadian and British imperial history. . . . Fresh and compelling. . . . Straightforward in its ingenuity and genuinely convincing in its execution. Indeed, there is here an elegance in the delivery of the core idea."
LSE Review of Books
"Across Oceans of Law follows a breathtaking scalar approach attentive to the hierarchies of race, time, and jurisdiction, while narrating a microhistorical story of Komagata Maru’s transoceanic travel to recover oceans as 'vibrant spaces of law, politics and poetics' (236). It is a beautifully written, richly documented, and theoretically sophisticated study that connects the dense imperial, legal, and maritime histories with global histories of time from the perspective of a ship steered by a colonial subject during the heyday of anticolonialism."
Law and History Review