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Resistance to Hunting in Pre-independence India: Religious environmentalism, ecological nationalism or cultural conservation?*

  • EZRA RASHKOW (a1)

Abstract

This article presents new evidence with which to evaluate the validity of the popular picture of religious environmentalism in India. It examines accounts of a large number of incidents described in Indian language newspapers, the colonial archive, and hunting literature published between the 1870s and 1940s, in which British and other sportsmen clashed with villagers in India while out hunting. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the colonial sports-hunting obsession was in its heyday, but opposition to hunting across India was also mounting. Rural villagers, in particular, were often willing to become involved in physical combat with hunters, apparently in order to protect local wildlife. Sportsmen often assumed that it was religious fanaticism that made Hindus defend the lives of what they saw as game animals, trophies, and specimens. The article provides evidence that, in addition to religion, a mixture of other motivations explains Hindu interest in the conservation of certain species. Anti-colonial consciousness, assertions of local authority and territoriality, and an environmental ethic can all be identified as being at work. The end result was the increased conservation of certain species of wildlife.

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*

Thanks to Peter Robb for reading early versions of this article, to K. Sivaramakrishnan for inviting me to present a version of this article at the Yale South Asia Seminar Series, and to David Arnold for originally guiding me towards the ‘native newspaper reports’ in the India Office Records. Thanks also to Esperanza Brizuela-Garcia and Alice Freed for suggestions on recent drafts of this article.

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1 Hornaday, William T., Two Years in the Jungle: The Experiences of a Hunter and Naturalist in India, Ceylon, the Malay Peninsula and Borneo (London: K. Paul, 1885), p. 1.

2 The gharial, or Indian gavial (Gavialis gangeticus), is considered ‘critically endangered’ by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. See http://www.iucnredlist.org/, [accessed 22 September 2014]. Once ranging throughout the waterways of the northern part of the Indian subcontinent (mainly the Indus, Ganges-Jumna, Mahanadi, Irrawaddy, and Bhramaputra), the species is now extinct in Myanmar, and extinct or near extinct in Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Pakistan. Estimates suggest that there are as few as 200 breeding pairs left in the wild, with a total population of less than 2,000. Conservation efforts in India, including ranching and reintroduction, have had some success, but between December 2007 and March 2008, over 100 gharials died due to poisoning from an industrial toxin released into the Chambal River. See http://www.gharialconservationalliance.org/ and the WWF's Gharial Crisis update: http://wwf.panda.org/?130661/Gharial-Crisis-An-Update, [both accessed 22 September 2014].

3 Hornaday, Two Years, p. 26.

4 Ibid, p. 51.

5 Ibid, p. 62.

6 Sivaramakrishnan, K., ‘Colonialism and Forestry in India: Imagining the Past in Present Politics’, Comparative Studies in Society and History 37, no. 1 (1995), p. 3.

7 Guha, Ranajit, ‘Preface’ in Guha, Ranajit (ed.), Subaltern Studies I (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1982), p. vii.

8 Hames, Raymond, ‘Wildlife Conservation in Tribal Societies’, in Oldfield, Margery L. and Alcorn, Janis B. (eds), Biodiversity: Culture, Conservation, and Ecodevelopment (Boulder: Westview Press, 1991), p. 175.

9 Krech, Shepherd, ‘Reflections on Conservation, Sustainability, and Environmentalism in Indigenous North America’, American Anthropologist 107, no. 1 (2005), p. 78.

10 Sinha, Subir, Gururani, Shubhra and Greenberg, Brian, ‘The “New Traditionalist” Discourse of Indian Environmentalism’, Journal of Peasant Studies 24, no. 3 (1997), pp. 6599.

11 Prasad, Archana, Against Ecological Romanticism: Verrier Elwin and the Making of an Anti-Modern Tribal Identity (Delhi: Three Essays Collective, 2003); Redford, Kent H., ‘The Ecologically Noble Savage’, Orion Nature Quarterly 9, no. 3 (1990), pp. 2529. Redford quickly retracted and apologized for the title of his article, which many found offensive, but the phrase has nonetheless permeated academic discourse ever since on the question of whether or not tribal peoples live in harmony with nature. For an excellent rebuttal of Redford's original piece, see Lopez, K. L., ‘Returning to Fields’, American Indian Culture and Research Journal 16 (1992), pp. 165174.

12 In 1997 Richard White started to lay the groundwork for asking the question: can anthropologists and ecologists test the concept of tribal peoples living in harmony with nature? White, Richard, ‘Indian People and the Natural World: Asking the Right Questions’ in Fixco, Donald L. (ed.), Rethinking American Indian History (Santa Fe: University of New Mexico Press, 1997), pp. 87100.

13 Krech, Shepherd, The Ecological Indian: Myth and History (London: Norton, 2001), p. 212.

14 A 2006 survey found that 40 per cent of the population of India, or 399 million people, were vegetarian. Yogendra Yadav and Sanjay Kumar, ‘The Food Habits of a Nation’, The Hindu, 14 August 2006, p. 1.

15 MacKenzie, John, Empire of Nature (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988), pp. 110.

16 See, for example, Hornaday, William, Our Vanishing Wildlife: Its Extermination and Preservation (New York: New York Zoological Society, 1913).

17 Fitter, R. and Scott, P., Penitent Butchers: The Fauna Preservation Society, 1903–1978 (London: Collins, 1978).

18 Azzi, Corryet al., ‘More on India's Sacred Cattle’, Current Anthropology 15, no. 3 (1974), pp. 317324.

19 Adcock, C. S., ‘Sacred Cows and Secular History: Cow Protection Debates in Colonial North India’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East 30, no. 2 (2010), pp. 297311.

20 Robb, Peter, ‘The Challenge of Gau Mata: British Policy and Religious Change in India, 1880–1916’, Modern Asian Studies 20, no. 2 (1986), p. 287.

21 See any number of works on religion and ecology such as Dwivedi, O. P., ‘Satyagraha for Conservation: Awakening the Spirit of Hinduism’ in Gottlieb, Roger S. (ed.), This Sacred Earth (London: Routledge, 1995), p. 146, and Chapple, Christopher, Nonviolence to Animals, Earth and Self in Asian Traditions (Albany, New York: State University of New York Press, 1993).

22 White, Lynn, ‘The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis’, Science 155 (1967), pp. 12031207.

23 See any number of works on religion and ecology, such as Chapple, Christopher Key and Tucker, Mary Evelyn (eds), Hinduism and Ecology: The Intersection of Earth, Sky, and Water (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2000), and Prime, Ranchor, Hinduism and Ecology: Seeds of Truth (London: Cassell, 1992).

24 Kalidasa and Miller, Barbara Stoler, Theater of Memory: The Plays of Kālidāsa (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), p. 91.

25 Jaini, P. S. (trans.), Umasvami's Tattvartha Sutra, That Which Is (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2007), p. xli.

26 Findley, Ellison, ‘Jahangir's Vow of Non-Violence’, Journal of the American Oriental Society 107, no. 2 (1987), pp. 245256.

27 Ibid, p. 245.

28 Cited in Mahesh Rangarajan, ‘Troubled Legacy: A Brief History of Wildlife Preservation in India’, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library Occasional Paper 1998, p. 13.

29 Rajasthan State Archives (hereafter: RSA), Jodhpur Shikar Khana Series (hereafter: JSK), ‘sanctuaries or game reserves’, 1928–9, old no. c/8 vol. I, bundle 1, rack 3, shelf 4: A letter from the Society for the Preservation of the Fauna of the Empire, dated 8 June 1928: ‘Note on the Preservation of Fauna in Marwar State prepared by the Forest Superintendent Marwar State’.

30 The 1730 Khejarli Massacre, where 363 Bhishnois lost their lives while protecting trees from officers of Maharaj Abay Singh of Marwar, is certainly the most famous incident in Bishnoi environmental history. Lal Sahu, Banvari, Vraksh Rakhsa aur Khejarli Balidan (Bikaner: Krishna Jansevi and Co., 1996), p. 3.

31 RSA, JSK, ‘shooting rules’, 1928–46, old no. c/9 vol. I, bundle 1, rack 3, shelf 4. Letter from Rao Raja Narpat Singh, the Private Secretary to H. H. the Maharaja of Jodhpur. This letter undoubtedly refers to the maharana of Mewar, Fateh Singh.

32 RSA, JSK, ‘offences’, 1928–37, old no. c/4 vol. I, bundle 1, rack 3, shelf 4.

33 Felix [pseud.], Recollections of a Bison & Tiger Hunter (London: J. M Dent, 1906), pp. 9495.

34 Tomalin, Emma, ‘The Limitations of Religious Environmentalism for India’, Worldviews 6 (2002), p. 17. Italics in the original.

35 Adcock, ‘Sacred Cows’, pp. 297–311.

36 Gold, Ann and Gujar, Bhoju, In the Time of Trees and Sorrows: Nature, Power, and Memory in Rajasthan (Durham: Duke University Press, 2002), p. 249. Fisher, R. J., If Rain Doesn't Come: An Anthropological Study of Drought and Human Ecology in Western Rajasthan (Delhi: Manohar, 1997), pp. 6470.

37 Hornaday, Two Years, p. 84.

38 Pye-Smith, Charlie, In Search of Wild India (London: Boxtree, 1992), pp. 1819.

39 Shaw, George Bernard, ‘Preface’ in Salt, Henry S. (ed.), Killing for Sports (London: G. Bell, 1915), p. x.

40 For a political explanation of the dominance of vegetarianism in Marwar, see Divya Cherian, ‘Towards a Vegetarian Body Politic: Statecraft and the Construction of a Hindu Community in Early Modern Marwar’, Paper presented at the Princeton University South Asian Studies Conference, 26–27 April 2013.

41 See Upadhyay, Shashi Bhushan, ‘Communalism and Working Class: Riot of 1893 in Bombay City’, Economic and Political Weekly 24, no. 30 (29 July 1989), pp. 6975, for an early discussion of communalism and ‘levels of consciousness’.

42 Sivaramakrishnan, K. and Cederlof, Gunnel, Ecological Nationalisms: Nature, Livelihoods, and Identities in South Asia (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2006), pp. 6, 223.

43 National Archives of India (hereafter: NAI), Selections from the Vernacular Newspapers Published in the North-Western Provinces, Oudh, Central Provinces, and Rajputana (June–December 1891): Bharat Jiwan (Benares), 16 November 1891, p. 781.

44 See British Library, Asian and African Collections, India Office Records (hereafter: IOR) L/PJ/6/275/f.672 ‘Address for Return showing the number of Murders committed in India during the past five years, distinguishing the cases in which Natives of India have been murdered by Europeans, the number of such Murders which remain undetected, and the number in which parties have been made amenable to justice showing whether convicted or acquitted, with the punishment inflicted in each case’.

45 Ibid.

46 IOR/R/2/774/383, ‘Shooting of a tiger by the Raja of Raghogarh—His subsequent illness and treatment, etc.’, 1919.

47 IOR L/R/5/81, United Provinces Native Newspaper Reports of 1907, #7: The Union Gazette (Bareilly), 21 April 1906, pp. 232–233.

48 IOR L/R/5/81, United Provinces Native Newspaper Reports of 1907, # 74: The Hind (Lucknow), 18 April 1907, p. 526.

49 Anon., ‘Attack on a Shooting Party’, The Times of India, 19 December 1899, p. 5.

50 Anon., ‘The Shooting Affray in Patiala’, The Times of India, 23 March 1895, p. 5.

51 NAI, Home (Political) (hereafter: H(P)), November 1890, nos. 138–141, ‘Case of Empress versus Private W. Newell, of the 3rd Battalion, Rifle Brigade, who was tried under Sections 326 and 304 of the Indian Penal Code for causing the death of a Native of the Kapurthala State while out on a shooting excursion. Restrictions on soldiers shooting in Native States and prohibition of shooting at night’.

52 NAI, H(P), October 1887, nos. 179–183.

53 NAI, H(P), A, October 1899, nos. 282–283 & Sept. 1899, nos. 109–111. ‘The account furnished to the Lieutenant-Governor of the former accident is that two Sergeants of the 3rd Hussars were out shooting, and came to a jhil, where one of them fired at a crane with a Lee-Metford. The bullet killed the crane, but also killed a native boy further on . . . [T]he use of so dangerous a weapon as the Lee-Metford for sporting purposes should be absolutely prohibited in all ordinary circumstances. . .’.

54 NAI, H(P), September 1895, nos. 318–323, ‘Prohibition of sportsmen from shooting sacred birds or animals in the vicinity of villages, habitations, temples and mosques’.

55 Ibid.

56 NAI, Central India Agency, Shooting Files, file no. 3 of 1887, ‘Shooting in HH the Maharajah Holkar's Preserves by Troopers of the 7th Dragoon Guards’, p. 3.

57 Ibid, pp. 6–7.

58 Chavda, Divyabhanusinh, ‘Junagadh State and its Lions: Conservation in Princely India, 1879–1947’, Conservation and Society 4, no. 4 (2006), pp. 522540.

59 Saraswati, Dayananda, Gokarunanidhi: Ocean of Mercy for the Cow (Lahore: Virajanand Press, 1889), p. viii.

60 The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 76 (31 May 1939–15 October 1939), p. 209.

61 See Vanita, Ruth, ‘Gandhi's Tiger: Multilingual Elites, the Battle for Minds, and English Romantic Literature in Colonial India’, Postcolonial Studies 5, no. 1 (2002), pp. 95110.

62 The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol. 7 (15 June 1907–12 December 1907), p. 203.

63 Ibid, Vol. 42 (2 May 1928–9 September 1928), p. 429.

64 Protesting at a hunt organized by some princes from Kathiawar for British officials, Gandhi wrote: ‘Such shikar, over which so much innocent blood is spilt and is without any risk of life or limb on the part of the shikari, is robbed of all charm and becomes a mild copy of the law that prevails between the Government and the people in India, whereby the public are always the sport of the Government which never runs any risk.’ Ibid, Vol. 26 (24 January 1922–12 November 1923), pp. 71–72.

65 Hames, ‘Wildlife Conservation in Tribal Societies’, p. 172.

66 As Colonel Glasfurd argued, ‘the marked diminution of game dates from the time when serviceable guns became cheap and easy of purchasing by native shikaris’. Glasfurd, A. I. R., Leaves from an Indian Jungle. Gathered During Thirteen Years of a Jungle Life in the Central Provinces, the Deccan, and Berar (Bombay: Times Press, 1903), p. 166.

67 Ezra Rashkow, ‘The Nature of Endangerment: Histories of Hunting, Wildlife and Forest Communities in Western and Central India’, PhD thesis, University of London, 2009, pp. 53–97.

68 Rashkow, Ezra, ‘Making Subaltern Shikaris: Histories of the Hunted in Central India’, South Asian History and Culture 5, no. 3 (2014), pp. 292313.

69 Felix, Recollections, pp. ix–x; Joshi, G. M., Tribal Bastar and the British Administration (Delhi: Indus, 1990), pp. 3134.

70 I hesitate to use the words ‘taboo’ and ‘totem’ because of their loaded colonial origins in India, but will do so nonetheless because they are the words used in the primary sources. See Ferreira, John V., Totemism in India (Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1965) for an early history of the problematic usage of the ‘totem’ concept.

71 Sterndale, R. A., Seonee or Camp Life on the Satpura Range (London: Sampson Low, 1877), p. 371.

72 Ball, Vincent, Jungle Life in India (London: Thos. de la Rue & Co., 1880), p. 600; Crooke, W., The Popular Religion and Folklore of Northern India (Allahabad: Government Press, 1894), Vol. 2, p. 154.

73 School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Special Collections, Christoph von Fürer-Haimendorf Papers, PP MS 19, Box 12, Gond 4, p. 187.

74 Elwin, Verrier, The Baiga (London: J. Murray, 1939).

75 Hussain, Shafquat, ‘Sports-hunting, Fairness and Colonial Identity: Collaboration and Subversion in the Northwestern Frontier Region of the British Indian Empire’, Conservation and Society 8, no. 2 (2010), pp. 112126.

76 Grigson, W. V., The Maria Gonds of Bastar (London: Oxford University Press, 1938), p. 158.

77 Burton, R. G., The Book of the Tiger (Plymouth: Mayflower, 1933), p. 90.

78 Eardley-Wilmot, Sainthill, Forest Life and Sport in India (London: Edward Arnold, 1910), pp. 2425.

79 Kant, Immanuel, ‘Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View’ in Beck, Lewis White (trans.), On History (New York: Bobbs-Merrill Co., 1963), p. 15.

80 For more on ‘selfish conservation’ and the ‘preservation of privilege’ in India, see Rashkow, Ezra, ‘Wildlife Conservation, the Preservation of Privilege, and Endangered Forest Societies in Colonial Central India’, Cambridge Centre for South Asian Studies Occasional Papers 26 (2008), pp. 128.

* Thanks to Peter Robb for reading early versions of this article, to K. Sivaramakrishnan for inviting me to present a version of this article at the Yale South Asia Seminar Series, and to David Arnold for originally guiding me towards the ‘native newspaper reports’ in the India Office Records. Thanks also to Esperanza Brizuela-Garcia and Alice Freed for suggestions on recent drafts of this article.

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