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The Political Ecologies of Urban Macaques in India

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Urbanisation is at the forefront of the challenges that India and several other nations of the Global South confront in the 21st century. Urban poverty is on the rise and rapid urbanisation is seriously outstripping most cities’ capacities to provide adequate infrastructure for their teeming millions. A neglected dimension of urban governance concerns nonhuman life in cities. New Delhi, for instance, has 12,000 stray cattle, 4,00,000 feral dogs and 9,000 wild monkeys — a situation similar to that in many other Indian cities. Although this is a major contemporary governance challenge, adequate frameworks to understand human-animal relations and design effective policies to manage potential conflict are seriously lacking in urban India. In this talk, I identify three areas of interdisciplinary rapprochement between nonhuman ethno-ethologies and human-driven political ecologies that are likely to have direct bearings on how Indian cities might be better governed. The first pertains to urban metabolism – the new ecologies of nonhuman life configured by the availability of provisioned food and waste. The second involves questions on space – the diverse ways through which animals territorialise, transgress and unsettle urban orders. The third entails an expanded notion of politics, emerging through conflicts between people, animals, the state and institutions governing them. I will suggest how this trilogy can be addressed through etho-geographical studies of urban macaques, highlighting their entanglement with three facets of urban governance: access to the city, livelihoods and public health. In conclusion, I will reflect upon the critical importance of such interdisciplinary conversations for a wider rethinking of ‘who’ poses challenges and ‘what’ constitutes the urban in contemporary India.

This talk is part of the Political Ecology Group meetings series.

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