South Asia

Organized Panel Session

1 - Domestic Animals as Property: Case of ‘Military Transport Animals’ in Colonial India

Friday, July 6
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Gulmohar, First Floor

To establish and sustain its dominion in India, the British Raj utilized a range of domesticated animals for warfare, transport, and resources. The use of animals within military spheres is neither unknown nor recent. Crucial links between working animals (such as horse and elephant) and military operations, technology, efficiency, and power have been explored by historians across regions and time periods. Within the domain of military use, however, the role of military transport animals seems to be relatively under-researched. Colonial use of such animals was distinct due to the formality and legality of the process of recruitment and management. This paper seeks to understand the making of the property status of military transport animals (such as camels, bullocks, donkeys, mules, elephants), through the analysis of manuals issued by the military department in colonial north India, especially Punjab. These manuals were used for educating and guiding the military official in selecting the best possible transport animals, but also establishing their status as property. I intend to argue that the status of an animal as a property was an assumed status derived more out of convenience, and a partial understanding of the social realities and regional geographies of domestication. In sum, the concept of property was an Imperial discourse of control, which neglected the complex relations and fluid motions that defined the lives and ownership of domesticated animals across north India. The archived images of these animals reveal multiple, often incongruent status of these working animals, which this paper seeks to explore.

Heeral Chhabra

University of Delhi, India

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1 - Domestic Animals as Property: Case of ‘Military Transport Animals’ in Colonial India



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