Redundant Bovine Masculinities: the case of India’s sacred cattle

Authors: Jonathon Turnbull*, University of Cambridge
Topics: Animal Geographies, Gender
Keywords: animals, more-than-human, biopolitics, cows, India, labour
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: 8222, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper brings together research from gender studies and animal studies to shine a new light on India’s sacred cattle, drawing from fieldwork conducted at gaushalas (cow shelters) in Delhi, in the summer of 2017. Barua’s (2017) concept of ‘nonhuman labour’ is used to interrogate how and when animal bodies and labours are pulled into and contribute to capitalist economies. Linda McDowell’s (2003) seminal theorisation of redundant masculinities (on young working-class men in post-industrial Britain) is then adapted to put forward a similar intersectional analysis of the lives of young male bovines in contemporary India. The paper reveals how young male bovines in India are situated outside the labour force: they cannot contribute to reproductive labour (they do not produce milk and are rendered worthless by artificial insemination); their manual labour is no longer necessary (as it has been replaced by technology); and their bodies are marked as out of place (their religiously-sanctioned protected legal status paradoxically makes them a societal burden). It is also concerned with the gendered narrative inscribed onto bovine bodies under the rhetoric of gaumata (cow mother) an ‘anthropatriarchal’ concept (Narayanan, forthcoming) that involves gendered oppression of nonhuman animals. Female bovine bodies are brought into the economic and political systems of India through harnessing their reproductive labour in the production of milk and calves. The paper calls for greater engagement with ethology and other animal sciences to better understand how animals experience the conditions forced upon them by human cultural and political economies under capitalist anthropatriarchy

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