Accepted Paper:

Boselaphus tragocamelus: India's Unholy Cow  


Prerna Srigyan (Ambedkar University Delhi)
Amit Kaushik (Ambedkar University Delhi)

Paper short abstract:

This paper aims to examine how the contestations presented by colloquial and scientific classifications of B.tragocamelus in India influence interventions by the state that have contradictory purposes in different spatial contexts.

Paper long abstract:

Representations of female Bos taurus, called 'gai' in Hindi, as the 'holy cow' continue to influence nationalistic imaginaries in India in 2017, with increasingly violent overtures against those who are perceived as undermining this representation. In these rather volatile times, we focus our attention to another remarkable species whose colloquial association with B. taurus is of critical importance to understanding how interspecies associations are changing human-animal associations in India. Boselaphus tragocamelus, called 'Nilgai' in Hindi, translated as the 'blue cow', is an ungulate endemic to the Indian subcontinent, and as its habitat of deciduous scrub forests and grassy plains diminish due to increasing urbanization, it finds refuge in swathes of agricultural fields and waste-dumps and parks in Indian cities. Encounters with the Nilgai have thus produced contradictory interventions—even though protected by the Indian Wildlife Protection Act (1972) as an endemic species, a few Indian states have agreed to cull the species responding to their status as agricultural pests. In other states, however, Nilgai populations are actively managed by the state in urban parks as symbols of wilderness. In these spectrum of interventions, linguistic and visual representations of Nilgai with 'gai', or India's holy cow dictate the language of law and of popular media. We ask: What representations enable the association of B. tragocamelus with B. taurus in India? What can it tell us about how human-animal relationships are being envisaged as urban-rural gradients are increasingly disappearing in the Global South?

Panel P003
Representing and Depicting Animals