ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Of chowkidars and fences: enforcing discipline and social control at and around centrally-protected monuments in postcolonial India (1947-1972).


Glattli Laurent - Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Institute for Asian and African Studies, Berlin, Germany


53 – Security and heritage in the making of urban futures: Insights from South Asia and its diasporas – Merged into panel n. 47 – Recent Cultural Heritage Initiatives in Nepal and the Himalayas


 As the bureaucratic custodian of centrally-protected monuments, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) seeks, in the first decades after independence (1947-72), to establish a firmer control over heritage sites in order to check rapid urban development, antiquities theft, and vandalism through a variety of security measures: fences, floodlighting, guards, forced expulsions, etc. In this respect, areas protected under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 are gradually fenced-in to prevent ‘encroachment’. This provision serves an objective of heritage preservation but, in urban settings, it also opens the way for residents of elite neighbourhoods to exploit it to ‘keep the labour class out.’

On site, the ASI attempts to counter antiquity theft and defacement by erecting fences and railings and hiring guards. In addition, the Survey’s policing efforts extend to disciplining the visitor – the ‘unruly’ Indian as well as the ‘Hippie menace’ – who need to be taught how to behave properly at monuments so as not to inconvenience the ‘rich American tourist’ and the scholar – seen as the more legitimate public of Indian national monuments. Between financial constraints, security and public access, elitist disciplinary discourse and popular education, and even suicide prevention and aesthetical concerns, this paper, drawing from a study of ASI archival records, examines the Survey’s response to real and perceived threats against monument security.