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Doctoral Project

The Discourse on Cruelty to Animals in Colonial India in a Global Context. Between Imperialism, Racism and Animal Protection.
Felix Eickelbeck (M.A.)

The project's aim is to explore the flow of ideas and concepts concerning the
discourse on, and the categorization of 'animals' in colonial India as well as instances of violence against them. I argue that in the second half of the 19th century, especially in the aftermath of Darwin's publications, the boundaries between humans and animals became destabilized. A large number of globally connected leagues and societies such as the Humanitarian League (1891) were founded with the goal of protecting animals worldwide. My research will also take into account 'local' societies, such as the Calcutta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (1861), which were formed after the European model but also indigenous organizations such as Gaurakshini sabhas (cow protection societies).

Thus, the dissertation project's aim is twofold, namely to explore the transculturality of the above mentioned organizations and their “moral” interventions in colonial South Asia as well as to interrogate the influence of “indigenous” South Asian concepts and practices such as ahimsa regarding the treatment of animals on the discourse in 'the West'.

My underlying hypothesis is that 19th century debates on animals must be seen in connection with larger discourses of race, Empire and religion. I intend to investigate the centrality of the colonial experience to the global discourse on animal protection on different levels. Thereby I shall gauge not only the impact 'foreign animals' exercised in the formulation of new theories such as Darwin's evolution theory, but also evaluate to what extent the exchange with South Asians and their concepts contributed to this discourse. The project aims to link the debates of (official) colonial India as represented in the colonial archive with the larger philosophical debates of the epoch, especially with those advocating animal protection.