ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Historicising the Animal–Human Relationship

Meat, Mercy, and Morality: Animals and Humanitarianism in Colonial Bengal, 1850–1920 by Samiparna Samanta, New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2021; pp 288, $75.

Samiparna Samantas Meat, Mercy, and Morality: Animals and Humanitarianism in Colonial Bengal, 18501920 examines how animal cruelty intersects with the histories of public health, sanitation, environmental ethics, urban spaces, and knowledge systems. By historicising the relationship between animals and humans, this study shows how identities were forged between the ruler and the ruled in colonial Bengal based on non-human relationships. The author relies on methodologies of environmental history and history of science to show how cultural roles of animals occupy an important place to understand the development of veterinary and nutrition sciences.

Chapter 1 provides a broad overview of how colonial policies complicated the story of animal protectionism. The author begins the chapter by evaluating the inconsistencies in the policies of the Calcutta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (henceforth CSPCA) formed in 1861. The organisation adopted the missionary zeal of protecting animals from cruelty, thus shaping anti-cruelty legislations in India. The middle- and upper-middle-class Bengalis who were part of the organisation shared similar concerns about cruelty towards animals like the colonial rulers. They were motivated by several reasons to protect animals, ranging from actual concern for animals to punishing lower middle-class Bengalis for cruelty towards them. Moreover, the authors analysis of Bengali texts like Adorini, Bisarjan, and Mahesh reveals the complexities in the interaction between the Bengali middle class and animals. The broad overview deals with the tension between cruelty and empathy for animals in a colonial society. However, in analysing the paradoxical attitudes towards animals, the author does not problematise how several sections of the Bengali Hindu or Muslim middle classes reacted to the idea of animalhuman affinity or cruelty towards animals.

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Published On : 20th Jan, 2024

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