Book Cover of The Truth Machines

Introduction to a Book Discussion on Jinee Lokaneeta’s The Truth Machines: Policing, Violence, and Scientific Interrogations in India

(Over the next few days, the Law and Other Things Blog will run a book discussion on Jinee Lokaneeta’s The Truth Machines: Policing, Violence, and Scientific Interrogations in India. This is the introductory post by Professor Rohit De)

Horrified at being charged with their daughter’s murder, Drs. Rajesh and Nupur Talwar moved the Supreme Court asking them to place on record the narco-analysis and brain mapping report of the three initial suspects in the case. The two young women from Rohtak who were accused of faking a case of harassment, after being feted for beating up their alleged harassed, were demanded to undergo a lie detector test. Despite the Supreme Court holding that the injection of truth serums, was a “cruel and unusual punishment”, the Central Bureau of Investigation asked the Supreme Court‘s permission to inject YS Jagan Reddy with sodium pentothal to help with their investigation.
The laws of evidence and investigation were drafted in the late 19th century by the colonial state, which was deeply suspicious of “native mendacity”, both among the populace and it’s own lower ranking officials. As historians have explored, the colonial investigation system sought to create scientific forensic measures which relied on physical evidence rather than oral speech.[1] 
The search for “scientific” and fool proof investigations continues in postcolonial India and is the subject of study of Jinee Lokaneeta’s The Truth Machines: Policing, Violence and Scientific Investigation in India
Using case studies and the results of extensive fieldwork, this book considers the nature of state power and legal violence in liberal democracies by focusing on the interaction between law, science, and policing in India. The postcolonial Indian police have often been accused of using torture in both routine and exceptional criminal cases, but they, and forensic psychologists, have claimed that lie detectors, brain scans, and narcoanalysis (the use of “truth serum,” Sodium Pentothal) represent a paradigm shift away from physical torture; most state high courts in India have upheld this rationale. The Truth Machines examines the emergence and use of these three scientific techniques to analyze two primary themes. First, the book questions whether existing theoretical frameworks for understanding state power and legal violence are adequate to explain constant innovations of the state. Second, it explores the workings of law, science, and policing in the everyday context to generate a theory of state power and legal violence, challenging the monolithic frameworks about this relationship, based on a study of both state and non-state actors.

Jinee Lokaneeta argues that the attempt to replace physical torture with truth machines in India fails because it relies on a confessional paradigm that is contiguous with torture. Her work also provides insights into a police institution that is founded and re-founded in its everyday interactions between state and non-state actors. Theorizing a concept of Contingent State, this book demonstrates the dis-aggregated, and de-centered nature of state power and legal violence, creating possible sites of critique and intervention.

Jinee Lokaneeta is a professor in political science and international relations at Drew University. Her areas of interest include law and violence, political theory including critical and feminist theory, global human rights, and interdisciplinary legal studies. She is the author of Transnational Torture: Law, Violence, and State Power in the United States and India (2011)  and co-editor, with Nivedita Menon and Sadhna Arya, of Feminist Politics: Struggles and Issues (2000).

In the book round-table, the following leading scholars of Indian policing and criminal law practitioners will engage with Truth Machines, drawing on their own research and expertise:

1. Abhinav Sekhri, Delhi High Court [Response here]
2. Sanatana Khanikar, JNU [Response here]
3. Pooja Satyogi, Ambedkar University Delhi [Response here]
4. Tasneem Deo, Yale Law School [Response here]

This shall be followed by a response from Prof. Lokaneeta [here]

[1] Kolsky, Elizabeth. “‘The Body Evidencing the Crime’: Rape on Trial in Colonial India, 1860–1947” Gender & History 22, no. 1 (2010): 109-130. Mitra J Sharafi, The Imperial Serologist and Punitive Self-Harm: Bloodstains and Legal Pluralism in British India, Burney, Ian, and Christopher Hamlin, eds. Global forensic cultures: making fact and justice in the modern era. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019.
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Rohit De
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