IAS Talking Points Seminar
An area of darkness? Disease, decolonisation and cricket in modern India
Dr Souvik Naha, IAS Visiting Research Fellow
Respondents: Jagjeet Lally (History, UCL) and Pragya Dhital (SOAS). Chaired by Megan Vaughan (IAS, UCL)
When cricketers from the British World, i.e. England, Australia and New Zealand, toured India in the early decades of decolonisation, they underwent detailed health check-ups and were given plenty of advice about Indian food and diseases. The sanitary conditions in newly independent India only aggravated their fears about the anachronistic, threatening and diseased zone. The medical guides they were given and the texts they read about India atavistically cast the country in its colonial image of a space riddled with “noxious air, dangerous bodies, and corrupt minds” (Chattopadhyay 2005: 68). Calcutta was the metonymy for the pathologically abnormal urban space in the nineteenth-century colonial medical discourse (Metcalfe 1995). The colonial construction of hygiene was not necessarily orientalist; it was often a response to a perceived affront to the European sense of modernity, civic sense and public health (Chakrabarty 1991). The image of Indian pestilence remained in place until after the end of colonisation and was burrowed deeper into metropolitan memory with every new recounting of disease and poverty in India. Non-Indian cricketers seemed not be an exception to this. It has also been argued that preconceived prejudices and the lack of openness to engage with the locale on its own terms led these cricketers to develop a “culture of complaint” (Heenan and Dunstan 2013, 41). Such formulation resonates with Guha’s (1997) idea that the colonial state’s limited knowledge of diseases made it anxious about maintaining authority, which led to the state culturally separating itself from the unfamiliar. The anxiety of losing control could have driven the coloniser to the extent of disregarding the values of liberalism it held so dear in its everyday exercise of power. However, the ebb and tide of the anxiety in the postcolonial period, especially the disappearance of health-related complaints once India started generating huge revenues for world cricket, raises several questions. Were cricketers genuinely afraid of India’s environment or did their fears stem from colonial prejudices? How did the perception of disease affect international cultural exchanges? To what extent did the press reproduce dogmatic portrayals of foreign social forms in the colonial discourse in its reports of overseas events? Was there any resistance to their discursive operation, and if so how did its own politics play out in the context of decolonisation, nation-building and nation-branding? Dr Naha's presentation will look at international cricket tours to India from the 1940s to the 1980s to reflect on these questions.
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