Abolishing Agrarian Slavery in Southern Colonial India

Abolishing Agrarian Slavery in Southern Colonial India
Malarvizhi Jayanth


Drawing on literary sources ranging from the pre-modern to the colonial, I first trace definitions of slavery in the regional languages of Tamil and Malayalam. I then show the translation of these graded definitions into global concepts of slave and free through legal reports and abolitionist correspondence on agrarian slavery in the nineteenth century. I demonstrate that comparisons of slavery across the East and West Indies undergirded these translations. Finally, I show how the hold of customary law delayed abolition both in British-ruled and native-administered regions in southern colonial India. This project contributes to the little-known history of the impact of the abolition of slavery outside the Atlantic world. It illuminates the lives of those inhabiting the intersection of caste and colonial subjection, using an interdisciplinary lens that draws together the close reading of literary analysis and the archival research of history. It destabilizes dominant notions of colonialism and caste by demonstrating the interplay of colonial and caste-based inequalities in the history of slavery.


Malarvizhi Jayanth

PhD defended at

University of Chicago




South Asia