From Sacrifice to Citizenship: Indenture and the Politics of Pain among Sanatan Hindus in Fiji
(University of Auckland)
Paper short abstract:
This paper considers the place of pain as part of rhetorics of national belonging. My focus is on how Sanatan Hindus in Fiji emphasize the suffering incurred by physical labor as integral to their historical legacy as indentured laborers in order to highlight their contributions to the Fijian nation and make contemporary claims for political rights.
Paper long abstract:
Much of Western scholarship on pain has highlighted the alienating and isolating qualities of physical pain, in particular pain's ability to force the social remove of the sufferer from society (cf. Arendt 1958; Scarry 1985), in the process overshadowing cases where physical pain draws individuals together, in some instances, becoming the basis for religious, ethnic, and political identity. This paper considers the place of pain and physical suffering from the latter perspective, examining how physical pain is perceived as both an integral element of religious identity and a platform for assertions of political rights among Indo-Fijian Hindus, Fiji's second largest religious and ethnic group. Specifically, I argue that contemporary Indo-Fijians, the vast majority of whom identify as Sanatan Hindus, emphasize the pain, suffering, and sacrifices of physical labor integral to their historical legacy as indentured laborers in order to highlight their contributions to the Fijian nation. Articulated through the religious idioms of seva and bhakti, as popularized by sanatani missionaries in Fiji in the 1930s, pain, and in particular pain linked to physical labor, can be conceptualized in contemporary discourse as a marker of Indo-Fijians' religious and ethnic identity. As part of a rhetoric of national belonging, pain further comes to carry Indo-Fijian claims to political rights. Rather than forcing an individual's alienation from his or her social group, physical pain in this context acts as an index of labor, a marker of sacrifice and devotion, and a bid for national belonging on the part of a marginalized ethnic-religious group.
Senses and citizenships: contestations over national and global identities, resources, and forms of belonging