CFP SI: The species turn in South Asian identity politics

The species turn in South Asian identity politics

Special Issue Proposal for Environment and Planning E

Guest editors: Yamini Narayanan (Deakin) and Krithika Srinivasan (Edinburgh)

In the last few years in India, cows have been mobilised prominently in efforts to ‘restore’ the geophysical Indian state as a Hindurashtra, or a racially ‘pure’ Hindu nation. The ‘protection’ of the cow, an animal paired with upper-caste Brahmins in certain interpretations of Hindu scriptures, has been deployed by Hindutva sympathisers as a way of othering ‘non-belonging’ communities in this reconstituted Hindu state, and for acts of exceptional violence against Muslims and Dalits who are framed as slaughterers of cows. Caste has also been deployed in making of a ‘hyperbolic vegetarian’ Hindutva state (Ghassen-Fachandi 2009) based on ideas of social pollution and marginalisation, rather than principled animal ethics. In Sri Lanka too, the cow is politicised as a symbol of Buddhist culture, and to marginalise non-venerating Muslims (Stewart 2013).

The mobilisation of particular nonhuman animal identities as a way of reinforcing intra-human social hierarchies, and excluding religious and ethnic ‘others’ has been noted for some time. In the case of caste in India, Wendy Doniger (2009: 200) notes that certain animal species, and certain human castes are politically interlinked in the Atharva Vedas, based on the purported shared social qualities of animal-caste twinning. In his Buffalo Nationalism, Dalit scholar Kancha Iliah has called out the ‘spiritual fascism’ that simultaneously elevates the fair-skinned cows/Brahmins, and devalues darker-skinned buffaloes/Dalits. The twinning of caste and species hierarchies can also be seen in the derogatory term ‘pariah’ which was used to refer to ‘outcaste’ human communities and then transferred to street dogs and kites seen as out-of-place scavengers by British colonialists (Srinivasan and Nagaraj 2007; Waghmore and Contractor 2015).

Identity politics manifests in spatial ideologies through exclusions and inclusions based on purity and pollution of animal/human bodies, and hierarchisation of these labouring bodies, and their labour. Noting that animals in political geographies are often expressed in terms of the ‘“material”’… rather than as vulnerable beings whose vulnerability is often tied to their places(s) in human society’, Srinivasan (2016: 76) invites reflection locating the ‘animal’ in political geographies, and the ‘political’ in animal geographies. What can a focus on nonhuman animal as a sentient moral subject, and nonhuman animal subjectivities reveal about the uneven landscape of power and powerlessness in intricate identity politics?

Postcolonial scholars of animal, gender, and race studies have already done considerable work in unravelling how the politicisation of animals offers new provocations and ways of understanding contemporary racial and gender politics (Boisseron 2018). These analyses frame anthropocentrism, patriarchy, and racism as ‘intertwined logics of subordination and exclusion’ that in fact, can only fully be addressed together (Gillespie 2018: 1; Kim 2015).

In this special issue, we aim to advance these important conversations by exploring what provocations – and opportunities – arise by seeing nonhuman animals not only as instruments of sectarian violence in South Asia, but indeed, also as subjects of such violence. Cows, for instance, might ostensibly be subjects of protection from slaughter. A caste logic nonetheless operates wherein Jersey cows might be more likely (than indigenous breeds) to being sold into the meat trade (Govindrajan 2018, Narayanan 2018). What’s more, the socio-economic realities of dairying intersect with the holy status of the cow with far reaching negative impacts on the lived experiences of these animals which are subject to illegal transport (for slaughter) precisely because of protections bestowed by their holy status (Srinivasan and Rao 2015). Most crucially, the entire dairy industry rests on what has been theorized as the sexualised and gendered extraction of the reproductive labour of cows and bulls (Gillespie 2014).

As such, we aim to unravel how species, caste, religion, gender,  sexuality, and other elements of identity might intersect to reveal deeper ways of understanding identity-based violence and speciesism as real, interconnected, and indeed, even compatible logics of oppressions. We aim to broaden the politicisation of ‘animals’ in human geography and cognate fields by engaging with geographies of caste, gender, nationalism and religious fundamentalism, and in turn, making caste, extremism and ultranationalism the concern of animal social scientists in/of South Asia.

The special issue has two mandates. One, we ask how discourses of species, gender, caste, religious, sexual, and ethnic identity intertwine and overlap to sustain narratives and practices of purity, exploitation, exclusion, and violence directed at people and nonhuman animals in South Asia.

Two, we explore how alliances between animal advocacy as a social justice movement, can be mediated with other movements such as the feminist, Dalit rights, and other social justice  movements in South Asia. How can a politics of ‘avowal’ (Kim 2015) between these diverse groups be imagined and negotiated?

Against this landscape, we ask questions including but not restricted to:

  1. How are animal bodies enmeshed as productive, reproductive, and symbolic labour in contemporary political economies to advance and sustain identity-based politics?
  2. How have specific twinnings of human and the animal been reinforced to produce particular configurations of nationalism, casteism communalism, sexism and tribalism, even while sustaining exploitative interspecies relations?
  3. How has legislative and civil society action been mobilised in sustaining these twinned logics and practices of exclusion?
  4. What might an intersectional multispecies politics of avowal look like?

We seek abstracts of 150-200 words from scholars of geography, anthropology, sociology, politics, animal studies, and law, among others. Please send to and by the 30th May 2019.


Boisseron, B. (2018). Afro-Dog: Blackness and the Animal Question. New York: Columbia University Press.

Dave, N., Naisargi. (2017). Something, Everything, Nothing; or, Cows, Dogs, and Maggots. Social Text, 35(1), 37-57.

Doniger, W. (2009). The Hindus: An Alternative History. New York: Penguin.

Ghassem-Fachandi, P. 2009. The hyberbolic vegetarian: Notes on a fragile subject in Gujarat. In Being there: The fieldwork encounter and the making of truth, ed. John Borneman and Abdellah Hammoudi, 77–112. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Gillespie, K. (2014). Sexualized violence and the gendered commodification of the animal body in Pacific Northwest US dairy production. Gender, Place and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography, 21(10), 1321-1337.

Gillespie, K. (2018). Placing Angola: Racialisation, Anthropocentrism, and Settler Colonialism at the Louisiana State Penitentiary’s Angola Rodeo. Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography.

Govindrajan, R. (2018). Animal Intimacies: Interspecies Relatedness in India’s Central Himalayas. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Iliah, K. (2004). Buffalo Nationalism: A Critique of Spiritual Fascism. New Delhi: Sage.

Kim, C., Jean. (2015). Dangerous Crossings: Race, Species, and Nature in a Multicultural Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Narayanan, Y. (2018). Cow protection’ as ‘casteised speciesism’: sacralisation, commercialisation and politicisation. South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies, 41(2), 331-351.

Srinivasan, K. (2016). Towards a political animal geography? Political Geography, 50, 76-78.

Srinivasan, K., & Rao, S. (2015). Meat cultures in globalizing India. Economic and Political Weekly, (39), 13-15.

Stewart, J. (2013). Cow Protection in Sinhala Buddhist Sri Lanka. The Journal of the Oriental Society of Australia, 45, 19.

Waghmore, S, and Q Contractor. 2015. “On the Madness of Caste: Dalits, Muslims, and Normalized Incivlities in Neoliberal India.” In Global Frontiers of Social Development in Theory and Practice, edited by B Mohan, 223–40. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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