Archivio per 4 Arundhati Virmani
“What is to be commemorated ?
Uses and Misuses of Political Commemoration in India : 20th-21st century”
di Arundhati Virmani (EHESS, Marseille, France)
This paper outlines three phases of political commemorations of the Indian nation, from the colonial period to the present times.
The first period extends from the late 19th century, when British control of the public space imposed strict limits on the first demonstrations of national rituals and ceremonies. The early national commemorations (symbols, anniversaries of political events or political leaders…) under colonialism were designed with elements drawn from the movements of actual resistance and contestation. They resolutely ignored the remote or even recent historical past as a source for national bonding. Begun in the 1890s, they became more systematic and widespread from 1920’s onwards. A nationalist calendar established these commemorations as regular political exercises in national memory and bonding.
The second period opens in 1947 with independence. The accent shifts to national recall. But paradoxically, the newfound freedom to commemorate operated within strictly well-defined state parameters destined to maintain a balance among India’s different communities, and maintain the country’s founding principles of secularism and unity in diversity. It strongly privileged the freedom struggle as a source of national consensus, instituting a carefully approved list of figures from the freedom struggle as national icons mainly Gandhi, Nehru and acknowledging some others like Sardar Patel or Sarojini Naidu. This regulated state version of national memory was diffused through school textbooks, official ceremonies, state museums and public statutory. However, in the last two three decades this institutionalisation has come to be seen as a system of domination by political and social elites and vigorously rejected by regional parties and communities.
This has inaugurated a third wave of commemorations characterised by a demand to broaden the field of national celebrations, integrate opposing national memories and political currents of the freedom struggle. Over the years, regional opposition governments and social groups have proposed alternative leaders, heroes and heroines for public celebration. Today, these contesting views of the nation’s past demand accommodation in official state representations and its geographical space in the form of statues and memorials. The more well organized groups and state governments have gone further and set up their own icons in public spaces. A judicial battle is currently being waged in India over the right to construct public monuments, memorial parks and statues with public money. New commemorative practices and a repertory of figures and historic events, which celebrate regional and group identities or community memories are seen as democratic expressions of equality but are proving to be more divisive and question established political rituals designed to rally and mobilize Indians as a nation.
1. Arundhati Virmani, A National Flag for India. Rituals, Nationalism and the Politics of Sentiment, (New Delhi, Permanent Black, 2008).
2. Arundhati Virmani, “The Burden of the Past”, L’uso politico della storia nell’India coloniale nel ventesimo secolo”, Storica, n° 22, 2002, p. 102-133.
3. Badri Narayan, Women heroes and Dalit assertion in North India. Culture, Identity and Politics (New Delhi, Sage, 2006)
4. B. R. Narayan, “Domination. How the Fragments Imagine the Nation: Perspectives from some North Indian Villages”, Dialectical Anthropology, 2005, p. 123-140.
5. Prachi Despande, Creative Pasts. Historical Memory and Identity in Western India 1700-1960, (Delhi, Permanent Black, 2007)