In 2003 I visited Delhi as part of a postdoctoral fellowship, working toward
what became my Spaces of Colonialism book on India’s interwar capital.
While chasing up a building regulation in the manual Delhi Municipality:
Bye Laws, Rules and Directions (1933), I came across a table listing “Prohibited
areas for the residence of public prostitutes and the keeping of brothels.”
Having studied the historical geographies of prostitution regulation with
Philip Howell at Cambridge, this tabulation caught my eye. I chased up the
reference as a complement to my interests in the landscapes of residential
segregation, the police, and urban improvement in the new and old cities.
Th e seam of fi les at the Delhi State Archives was incredibly rich, detailing
the turn of the city against its “prostitutes.” Th is was, to a greater degree than
in the other forms of po liti cal landscaping that had attracted me, a pro cess
incorporating pop u lar petitioning and campaigns, voluntary groups and
charities, as well as the Municipal Committee and Delhi administration.
I wrote up this material as the fourth chapter to my Delhi book, focusing
on the blurred boundary between the state and civil society and the sexual
intersection of the individual and public body.
Th e chapter, however, didn’t work. While the other case studies on ac-
commodation, policing, and urban infrastructure required national and
imperial contextualization, they presented stories that could be suffi ciently