A Colonial Affair: Commerce, Conversion, and Scandal in French India
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Early in the eighteenth century, in the French colony of Pondichéry, India, a man’s life was thrust into turmoil. A Tamil commercial broker named Nayiniyappa, the colony’s most powerful local man, was arrested, swiftly convicted of tyranny and sedition, and died in prison while serving out his sentence. But following his death a global mobilization effort on his behalf ensued, and the French King exonerated Nayiniyappa posthumously. The struggle over this man’s guilt or innocence drew into debate merchants of the French trading company, the Compagnie des Indes, Catholic missionaries of various orders, high ranking officials in Paris and Versailles, and local families in Pondichéry. As they fought over Nayiniyappa’s fate, they also articulated radically different visions of the French colonial project in India. This microhistory of the affair and the fault lines it reveals shows that conflicts between and within the projects of trade and religion were a defining feature of the little-known French empire in South Asia.