Beasts in the garden: unpacking human-wildlife coexistence and conflict in India’s past and present

Meera Anna Oommen, Kartik Shanker

Human-wildlife encounters are characterised by a diverse array of engagements located on the continuum between the negative and the positive. In the Indian conservation context, protracted conflict with wildlife is reflected in violence across a range of rural and urban ecologies, but is only one aspect of the multiple facets of ongoing human and non-human encounter. Within these shared geographies, there are often equally significant elements of coexistence and acceptance that are emphatically dependent on context, and can be explored via a moral economy of violence. Historically, such relationships have been mediated by the socio-cultural positioning of traditional societies, local land use and histories, and a range of other influences. In recent years, these tenuous equilibria are often disrupted by top-down, universalist conservation agendas percolating from the state and the global arena. This study aims to use several historical and contemporary vignettes in relation to a range of species, charismatic and otherwise, to trace the changing nature of coexistence and conflict. The study will argue that a deeper engagement with the scholarship on the ecology and the psychology of fear as well as insights at the intersection of environmental history, political ecology and anthropology can improve our understanding of coexistence with wildlife in India as well as across the world.    

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