Sohi, Seema. Echoes of Mutiny: Race, Surveillance, and Indian anticolonialism in North America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014.
Seema Sohi’s Echoes of Mutiny: Race, Surveillance, and Indian Anticolonialism in North America examines how radical anti-colonist resistance is in response to anti-Asian exclusionary movements that evolved into state sanctioned surveillance and caused inter-imperial alliances between the U.S. and Britain. Sohi particularly focuses on the how race and state repression were key components to the development and deployment of U.S. state power in that period. Though the study of South Asian migration and immigration in the United States is a small field, most historians seem to mainly focus on the 1965 period, which only benefited skilled South Asian migrants immigrating and settling in America. The author, like some other historians, is more interested on earlier waves of South Asian migration but she concentrates specifically on the anti-Asian exclusionary laws and surveillance in North America from the late 19th century to the early 20th century.
The book’s first four chapters look at the beginnings of anti-colonialism, anti-radicalism and exclusion in the U.S. in the late 19th century to the years before World War I. In chapter 1, Sohi focuses on the correlation between migration and the politicization of these Indian immigrants in a racial and colonial context. She writes, “…the perils Asian migration posed to “white men’s countries” …engendered deep ideological ties between white workers, immigration authorities, and elected officials on both sides of the US-Canadian border as well as across the Pacific region” (pg. 15). These global migrational movements of South Asians exposed them to revolutionary movements and realizations of racial discrimination, violence, and oppression wherever they traveled led to the rise in Indian political mobilization that caused an increase of surveillance on them in North America. In chapter 2, Sohi explores the Indian anticolonialism in North America, specifically paying attention to the Ghadar Party and anticolonial intellectuals Lajpat Rai and Manabendra Roy. Many Indians in the United States, especially students, influenced by early leaders like Sohan Singh Bhakna and Guru Dutt Kumar of PCHA became aware of the migrant labor exploitation, racial discrimination, and colonial subjugation they suffered throughout the British empire and in the United States. By being denied imperial justice, these Indian migrants under a newly formed Ghadar Party advocated complete independence which garnered them attention and surveillance in North America. This chapter is particularly important demonstrates how the struggles of the migrant labor exploitation, racial discrimination, and colonial subjugation of these Indian migrants in North American led them advocate and spread the ideology of national liberation to all minorities struggling against racial and state oppression.
Sohi examines the inter-imperial alliances between the U.S. and Britain and the challenges Indians faced in response to immigration laws in the early 20th century globally in chapters 3 and 4. Due to the rise in anti-colonial political thought by Indian migrants, officials in both the U.S. and Canada-Britain started to deport these agitators and ‘anarchists’. Sohi was able to determine this exclusion through “early twentieth-century Bureau of Immigration files, surveillance reports, and congressional hearings pertaining to Indian migrants…” (pg.83). The American fear of anarchists and anticapitalistic politics led them into an inter-imperial alliance with Britain and allowed them associate “Hindu” with anarchy and other un-American ideologies. This led to heavy surveillance by both, the U.S. and Britain, on leaders of anti-colonial thought and a rise in Asian exclusionary laws in North America. In response to this surveillance and eventual deportation, Indian migrants began to challenge these migrational laws. Sohi uses a complication of narratives and records of Komagata Maru to best explain the justification of the denied right of mobilization of Indians as British subjects. The events of the Komagata Maru had globally alerted Indians that they were not only seen as subversive agitators in North America but also allowed them to advocate rights for equality and separation from imperial rule. Sohi’s argument that the inter-imperial alliance and surveillance by the U.S. not only suppressed some of the Indian anticolonialists but that Indian anticolonialism impacted U.S. state power to repress political radicalism.
The book’s last two chapters look at how the first world war and inter-war period impacted anti-colonialism, anti-radicalism, and exclusion for Indian immigrants in the U.S. and Britain. Sohi explores the how leaders in the Ghadar party advocated for the formations of uprisings in India because of the imperial focus on the war in Europe. Their advocacy caused a global widespread of anti-colonial and political radical thought to Indians abroad. However, after the war in 1917, reacting to this socio-political resurgence, both governments enacted more laws that restricted Indian mobility. Sohi uses the trial or the “Hindu Conspiracy” to demonstrate the U.S. government’s “expansive interpretation of existing anti-radical laws in order to combat political radicalism” (pg. 197). Her assertion that the great war and inter-war period impacted anti-colonialism and exclusion for Indian migrants is that they have become a racialized threat to the national security and Anglo-American supremacy across the globe.
Seema Sohi’s Echoes of Mutiny: Race, Surveillance, and Indian Anticolonialism in North America demonstrates how race and state repression were key components to the development and deployment of U.S. state power through radical anti-colonist resistance, anti-Asian exclusionary movements, state surveillance and inter-imperial alliances between the U.S. and Britain from late 19th century to the early 20th century. Her argument not only provides a new global understanding of Asian exclusion but breaks the notion of American exceptionalism and also contributes to the field and study of the United States as a part of global history.