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Despite their centrality to Mauritius’s plantation economy, merchants from Gujarat remain in the shadows of histories of slavery and indentured labour migration on the island. This talk takes stock of these erased histories by retelling the story of one plantation, Bel Ombre, which was variously owned by French planters and Gujarati merchants in the nineteenth century. Moving between the space of Bel Ombre today, records in the Mauritius National Archives, and old ports in Gujarat, I analyse the archival processes through which Gujarati mercantile intimacies were recorded and obscured. The colonial state enacted gendered violence on indentured women whose sexuality was policed and pathologised while Gujarati merchants were able to marry across racial lines through sanctioned property and marriage arrangements. Reaching across the ocean from Gujarat to Mauritius and back, the talk suggests that there are haunted houses in these histories.
Ketaki Pant's research focuses on South Asia and the Indian Ocean arena from the late eighteenth century to the present day. Her current projects examine interlinked histories of racial capitalism, gendered belonging, minoritisation, and displacement centred on Gujarat. Recent publications include an article in South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies and a chapter in the Routledge Handbook of Asian Transnationalism.