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CUSAS Talk: Dr Nayanika Mathur

When Nov 05, 2015
from 05:00 PM to 06:30 PM
Where Seminar Room, Social Anthropology
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India Today

Dr Nayanika Mathur

An Impossible Identification: Conserving and Hunting Big Cats in India

This paper is a historical and ethnographic account of the process
whereby tigers and leopards have been identified and hunted down in
India. It is centred upon those big cats that are termed “man-eaters”
due to their predilection for human flesh. The paper is divided into
two historical epochs: from the early period of British colonialism
till the late 1960s when a total ban on big cat hunting was imposed in
India; and the period subsequent to the passage of the Wildlife
Protection Act in 1972 when it became a legal offence, similar to
manslaughter, to kill the now-protected big cats. It is considered a
central responsibility of men of state to protect humans from
predatory animals, particularly large felines like tigers and
leopards, in India. I ask how this role of battling predatory big cats
is dispensed with in a landscape where several big cats co-exist –
most of which are not “man-eaters” – thus making it impossible to be
certain of the culpability of a specific big cat prior to its killing.
While even prior to the existence of a conservationist regime colonial
and post-colonial officials openly expressed their doubts over the
culpability of tigers and leopards and questioned “native”
intelligence, this situation has acquired particular poignancy in the
period after 1972. From this point onwards, hunters have become
legally bound to kill only the guilty big cat and can potentially face
punitive action, including imprisonment, if they are proven to have
hunted down an innocent one. Through fieldwork conducted with hunters,
poachers, conservationists, wildlife biologists, foresters, and
victims of attacks by big cats in contemporary India, and on the basis
of the hunting of 4 famous man-eaters in recent times, this paper
explores the diverse manners through which this (impossible)
identification is arrived upon.

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