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Power and Domination

Ranjeeta Dutta

By Deborah Sutton
Orient Blackswan, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 239, Rs.695.00


Nestled within an idyllic ecological environment, the hill stations have always been an ideal summer retreat. However, the quietude of these settlements and the tranquility of their landscapes belie a history of conflicts and negotiations mostly dated to the nineteenth century, between the hill communities and the British. The sanguineness and salubrity that have often been taken for granted as natural and preexisting were in fact the result of a conscious colonizing process of the hills. The book under review recounts such a narrative of power and domination that created specific ethnographic, agricultural and arboreal typologies in the Nilgiri hills located in the erstwhile Madras Presidency. The title of the book encapsulates three important concepts of ‘predicament’, ‘landscapes’, and ‘other landscapes’, that form the template on which the complex history of colonization of the Nilgiris and its subsequent evolution as an idyllic hill station are elaborated upon. Focusing on four settlements of the Nilgiris, viz., Oootacamund, Keti, Candalmund and Jackatallah, Sutton deftly uses rich archival material, newspaper reports and memoirs, accounting a complex interface involving the colonial authority, incoming British settlers and local inhabitants and their customary practices. Such an interface, as rightly pointed out by the author, created contradictions and tensions between the colonizers and the hill communities. For instance, the colonial imagination of a particular environmental landscape and the local interests and sensibilities that were subsequently marginalized by the British colonizers were often antagonistic to each other. Consequently, the attempt to manipulate and negotiate with the local interests resulted in a mismatch between the intents and effects of the colonial legislations. The author discusses several contingent circumstances and the ensuing predicament of the colonizers in dealing with them that further highlighted the ambiguities of their policies. The resolution of the predicament lay in ironing out the inconsistencies within the juridical process, thus constantly ordering and reordering the process of colonization. Such a treatment of colonization goes beyond the usual linear and simplistic historical narrative of assertion of power and domination from above. According to Sutton, ‘landscape’ often considered as the representation of the material world, is never value neutral and imagines a particular kind of arrangement of occupation, culture and nature, excluding elements that would detract from that order (pp. 6-9). Thus, embedded within the concept of landscape is the notion of power, domination and marginalization. The charming visual illustrations of the Niligiri landscape with manicured settlements of ...

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