Transnational Torture: Law, Violence, and State Power in the United States and India
Jinee Lokaneeta
158 x 240 mm
Year of Publishing
Territorial Rights
Orient BlackSwan

The opening scene of the 2009 film Slumdog Millionaire shows the Indian police torturing Jamal, the protagonist of the film, who was suspected of cheating on a game show. This powerful scene is a reminder of the routine use of torture in Indian police stations. Decades of reports by civil liberty and democratic rights groups have documented the torture, custodial deaths, and extrajudicial killings that continue in contemporary India despite the formal legal safeguards. These incidents of violence are primarily denied or explained away as aberrational acts by police and prison officials akin to the U.S. officials holding the “few bad apples” responsible for the torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in the Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq or Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Transnational Torture focuses on the legal and political discourses on torture in India and the United States—two common-law based constitutional democracies—to theorize the relationship between law, violence, and state power in liberal democracies. Analyzing about one hundred landmark Supreme Court cases on torture in India and the United States, memos and popular imagery of torture, Jinee Lokaneeta compellingly demonstrates that even before recent debates on the use of torture in the war on terror, the laws of interrogation were much more ambivalent about the infliction of excess pain and suffering than most political and legal theorists have acknowledged. Rather than viewing the recent policies on interrogation as anomalous or exceptional, Lokaneeta effectively argues that efforts to accommodate excess violence—a constantly negotiated process—are long standing features of routine interrogations in both the United States and India, concluding that the infliction of excess violence is more central to democratic governing than is generally acknowledged.

This book would be of interest to political scientists, sociologists, legal scholars, human rights activists and policy makers.

Jinee Lokaneeta is an assistant professor in the political science department at Drew University in New Jersey, USA.


Introduction: Do the Ghosts of Leviathan Linger On? Law, Violence and Torture in Liberal Democracies

  1. Law’s Struggle with Violence: Ambivalence in the “Routine” Jurisprudence of Interrogations in the United States
  2. “Being Helplessly Civilized Leaves Us at the Mercy of the Beast”: Post–9/11 Discourses on Torture in the Unites States
  3. Torture in the TV Show 24: Circulation of Meanings
  4. Jurisprudence on Torture and Interrogations in India
  5. Contemporary States of Exception: Extraordinary Laws and Interrogation in India
  6. Conclusion: Unravelling the Exception: Torture in Liberal Democracies

Selected Bibliography

BIBLIO: November- December 2012

‘Jinee Lokaneeta brilliantly explores the hidden connection between excess violence and standard operating procedure of the liberal state in the United States and India, and by doing, situates the practice, persistence, and denial of torture in their contemporary political, legal, and cultural settings.’

- Richard Falk, Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University, USA

‘This ground-breaking comparative study of the United States and India testifies  to the truth that all nations come as equal strangers to the tasks of prevention and punishment for torture, degrading, cruel, and inhumane treatment. Jinee Lokaneeta helps us understand why, and the tasks ahead.  Amidst strident governance and adjudicatory cultures that seek to justify standardless use of force, Lokaneeta urges us all to take seriously governance accountability in the name of respect for human dignity and fundamental freedoms even in the times of “terror”.  An indispensable work indeed, even for those inclined initially to think otherwise.’

- Upendra Baxi, Emeritus Professor of Law, University of Warwick and University of Delhi 
‘In an original and exciting argument, Lokaneeta suggests that what lies at the heart of the liberal democratic state is the attempt to accommodate and regulate “excess violence”. Dazzling in the range of materials it examines, challenging in its conclusions, this is an outstanding contribution to scholarship that recognizes violence to be integral to modern democracies rather than an aberration.’

- Nivedita Menon, Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Breaking the prisoner | The Indian Express, New Delhi, 28 October 2021.
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