Indian Animal Studies Collective: Towards Animal Subjectivities of Waste: Street Dogs and Urban Spaces

Susan Haris, IIT Delhi, India; Anu Pande, The English and Foreign Languages University, Hyderabad, India

November 25  (Friday) 13.00-15.00 (Helsinki), online

For ZOOM Link Register HERE at least a  day before the event. You will receive the zoom link an hour before the program begins.

Founded in July 2021, the Indian Animal Studies Collective has so far held a series of online conversations with academics writing on human-animal relations called “Table Talks”. These conversations were designed to be an informal exchange of ideas with the participants encouraged to ask questions or comment at any point. We want to retain that sense of openness to ideas and questions in the workshop we propose to hold in November. Our hybrid workshop aims to discuss the relation between waste and stray dogs and asks two important questions: a) should waste benefit animals? b) how can we figure animal subjectivities of waste, particularly in the Indian context?

Urban animals such as street dogs and cows feed on food waste for survival but this has raised concerns about public health, especially of rabies, and ecology. At the same time, public perceptions of street dogs in India are more complex than in many other cultural contexts. They are not necessarily seen as out-of-place animals but as rightful cohabitants of the multispecies cityscape (Narayanan 2019). More-than-human geographers charting human-animal relations in urban spaces have noted that (i) waste feeds animals, (ii) certain vulnerable groups of people are in closer proximity to waste-eating animals, and develop relationships of interdependency and reciprocal care with them which contribute to the psychosocial well-being of both parties, (iii) changes in urban structures and garbage creation have contributed to human-animal conflict (Kumar, Singh and Harriss-White. 2019).

In public discourses around waste, there is no room for animal subjectivities which mark their diverse relationships to waste other than as what is discarded by humans. Instead, animal subjectivities are reduced to bodies that are out of place (“stray”) or as a metabolical and biological problem (waste-eaters and rabies-carriers). Is it possible to recentre this conversation if we trace how much street animals rely on waste for survival? The postcolonial legacy of waste rooted in “slow violence” and the caste history of scavenging in India make it difficult, indeed even problematic – and hence imperative – to undo this anthropocentrism.

The workshop will be a day-long event that will be open to undergraduate and postgraduate students and activists interested in environmental humanities, waste studies, postcolonial studies and animal studies. We hope to bring together a diverse range of perspectives that can bring into relief the different knots of this problem. To this end, the workshop will be divided into two parts. In the first part, we will have a series of short discussions around select articles that assess the human-animal interface around waste in different contexts. The second part will be a collaborative exercise to bring together all the diverse strands, and the organizers will guide the participants in making sense of each position, its inherent biases and assumptions, and exploring its usefulness for the local realities in India. The results of this collaborative exercise will be sketched out and collated into a report by the members of the Indian Animal Studies Collective.

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