From Postcolonial to Neoliberal? Identifying the "Other" Body in Indian Circus

Aastha Gandhi


Since its inception in the colonial period, the circus has always been a space for migrant and travelling performers. At present, Indian circus has an equal number of international performers as the last generation of Indian performers. Yet in recent times, with globalization making employment easier and the impact of neoliberal policies, there is a shift toward perceiving the woman performer through the lens of race and racial categories. My paper engages with this subject through a performative lens and an analysis of labour and employment. I argue that, within colonial-postcolonial historiography, the peculiar and distinct "exoticization" of white circus performer bodies is an important area of investigation. This paper focuses on the performance and reception of the white or white-passing body vis-à-vis the Indian body. Further, I locate the increasing employment of (white-skinned) international performers in Indian circus as an effect of neoliberal policies. For myriad reasons explored in this paper, international performers are employed in Indian circuses on a seasonal and contractual basis, gradually replacing Indian circus performers. Consequently, Indian circus over the last decade has turned into a heated site for negotiations between the "local" and the "other."

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