The English God of Water: Memory of a colonial engineer in Andhra Pradesh
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Strangely in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh the English engineer General Sir Arthur Cotton has become the object of religious worship. Over 3,000 statues of the engineer, whose irrigation works are credited with having ended famine and bringing prosperity to the area, dot the countryside. In this paper I look at the memory of Cotton by applying Pierre Nora’s concept of the lieux de mémoire and Ann Rigney’s idea of the convergence of lieux de mémoire to the statues. The statues have become a symbol of the Kamma caste and through this they have attained political significance as well. Cotton is constantly lauded for his efforts to save coastal Andhra and he functions as an ideal for current generations as well. This continuing reverence of Cotton has turned him into an important symbol of the farmers who profit most from his works, the members of the Kamma caste. While strange at first sight, Cotton’s statues are part of a wider trend in Indian politics. Religious and political groups publicly display their power by erecting statues. The figures represented by the statues usually belong to the group whose influence they are supposed to make visible. However, the colonial context in which Cotton operated is not an important part of this memory. This has allowed him to almost become a local figure, he has become suitable as a representative of the caste and is also seen as such by others. It is somewhat ironic that such a staunch imperialist as Cotton would be revered in a postcolonial nation, however not only does his imperialism not play a role in popular remembrance, it is also not thematised in academic works which discuss Cotton’s work.