Performing Independence in Puducherry: Commemorative Public Holidays and Postcolonial Imaginaries in the Former French India

Tuesday 10 May 2022 (13:00-14:30)

Convenor: Dr Kailing Xie

Dancers in the town of Puducherry gather to celebrate Indian independence

When India gained independence from Great Britain in 1947, its Independence Day ceremonies soon became a prototype which came to set the standard for marking and ritualising imperial withdrawal and the achievement of sovereignty in former colonies across the world.

Since then, much has been written on the cultural, social and political significances of the annually recurrent celebration of the postcolonial world’s many Independence Days.

If India has already provided much food for thought in theorising the significance of the ritualised celebration of Independence Day and related national holidays, then this has also been from a particular vantage point: That of independence from British rule. Yet this historical perspective far from exhausts the relevant field of post/colonial relations and imaginaries on India and its independence. Other parts of India were, after all, subject to the colonial power of France and Portugal even after the decolonisation of British India. This poses questions of how to deal with multiple colonial powers in present postcolonial imaginaries, and simultaneously hints at issues of commemorating the relationships with those erstwhile colonial powers, conceptualising and performing independence and postcolonial relations, and integrating culturally and politically in an Indian Republic that is shaped by quite different historical experiences. Through an analysis of holidays commemorating independence, this talk shows how investigating the celebration of independence in the former French India, the Union Territory of Puducherry, can provide a useful contrapuntal perspective in theorising Indian postcolonial imaginaries and understandings of independence.

Speaker's bio:

Helle Jørgensen is an anthropologist and lecturer in cultural heritage at the Department of History, University of Birmingham. Her research is concerned with colonial heritage, historicity, social memory, postcolonial imaginaries, transnational relations, tourism and urban development in India and has focused on the uses of Indo-French and Indo-Danish colonial legacies.


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