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Lakshmi Subramanian

The Sovereign and the Pirate

Ordering Maritime Subjects in India's Western Littoral

Oxford University Press 2016

Indian Ocean WorldNew Books in British StudiesNew Books in GeographyNew Books in HistoryNew Books in Military HistoryNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in South Asian Studies July 27, 2020 Ahmed Yaqoub AlMaazmi

Lakshmi Subramanian’s The Sovereign and the Pirate: Ordering Maritime Subjects in India’s Western Littoral (Oxford University Press, 2016) offers an amphibious history written around...

Lakshmi Subramanian’s The Sovereign and the Pirate: Ordering Maritime Subjects in India’s Western Littoral (Oxford University Press, 2016) offers an amphibious history written around the juncture of the nineteenth century, when the northwestern littoral of India—largely comprising of Gujarat, Kathiawad, Cutch, and Sind—was battered by piratical raids.

These attacks disrupted coastal trade in the western Indian Ocean and embarrassed the English East India Company by defying the very boundaries of law and sovereignty that the Company was trying to impose. Who were these pirates whom the Company described as small-time crooks habituated to a life of raiding and thieving? How did they perceive themselves? What did they mean when they insisted that theft was their livelihood and that it enjoyed the sanction of God?

Exploring the phenomenon and politics of predation in the region, Lakshmi Subramanian teases out a material history of piracy—locating its antecedents, its social context, and its ramifications—during a crucial period of political turbulence marked by the global expansion of commercial exchanges headed by the Company.

She investigates the fissures within the colonial project of law and anti-piracy regulations and, through the lens of maritime politics, unravels the skeins of a distinct mode of subaltern protest. By systematically unpacking the category of piracy as it was constituted by the legal discourse of the English East India Company, she revisits the idea of legal pluralism in the Indian Ocean and considers the possibility of looking at piracy as an expression of resistance by littoral society.

Lakshmi Subramanian is currently a professor of History at the BITS PILANI Goa Campus at the Humanities and Social Science faculty. Emeritus Professor of History at the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, and holds the position of Associate Fellow in the Institute of Advanced Studies, Nantes.


Ahmed Yaqoub AlMaazmi is a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University, Near Eastern Studies Department. His research focuses on the intersection of law and the environment across the western Indian Ocean. He can be reached by email at almaazmi@princeton.edu or on Twitter @Ahmed_Yaqoub. Listeners’ feedback, questions, and book suggestions are most welcome.