Landscapes of Power, Gardens of Labour: The President's Estate in Delhi, India – University of Copenhagen

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Landscapes of Power, Gardens of Labour: The President's Estate in Delhi, India

Public lecture by Professor Amita Baviskar

Renowned across the world, the Mughal Garden of the Rashtrapati Bhavan in Delhi attracts millions of visitors. Less well known is the fact that the President’s Estate also contains hundreds of acres of jungle, orchards and cultivated fields, with a wealth of plant and animal life that did not exist 85 years ago. 

How was this miracle achieved? What keeps it going today? 

My lecture shows how, in the last days of empire, the British transformed the once-barren hilltop of Raisina into a lush landscape designed to display colonial power and style. It traces the history of the formal gardens and forests, highlighting the role of sentiment, status and taste in designing the landscape. After Independence, this imperial legacy was reshaped to serve the public purpose. 

I discuss how human agency creates and curates this habitat, looking particularly at the quiet yet constant work done by the malis (gardeners).

Professor Amita Baviskar is a sociologist at the Institute of Economic Growth, Delhi. Her research focuses on the cultural politics of environment and development. Her first book "In the Belly of the River: Tribal Conflicts over Development in the Narmada Valley" (Oxford University Press) discussed the struggle for survival by adivasis in central India against a large dam. Her subsequent work further explores the themes of resource rights, subaltern resistance and cultural identity. More recently, she has focused on urban environmental politics, especially bourgeois environmentalism and spatial restructuring in the context of economic liberalization in Delhi. Baviskar's latest research examines changing food practices in western India in relation to the transformation of agrarian environments.