Renisa MawaniAug 24, 2020
Across Oceans of Law
The Komagata Maru and Jurisdiction in the Time of Empire
Duke University Press 2018
Renisa Mawani’s Across Oceans of Law: The Komagata Maru and Jurisdiction in the Time of Empire (Duke University Press), take us to 1914, when 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.
Renisa Mawani is currently Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of British Columbia and recurring Chair of the Law and Society Program. Other affiliations at UBC include: Faculty Associate, Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies, the Institute for Race, Gender, Sexuality, and Social Justice, Green College, and the Science and Technology Studies Program. Mawani is the author of Colonial Proximities: Crossracial Encounters and Juridical Truths in British Columbia, 1871–1921.
Ahmed Yaqoub AlMaazmi is a Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University. His research focuses on the intersection of law and the environment across the western Indian Ocean. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @Ahmed_Yaqoub. Listeners’ feedback, questions, and book suggestions are most welcome.