ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

The Sundarbans Dissension: Analysing the Complexities of Human and Animal Relationship in the Sundarbans Archipelago


Roy Pratiti - Indian Institute of Science Education and Research Bhopal, Humanities and Social Sciences, Bhopal, India


17 – More Than Human: Animal-Human Relations in Pre-Modern South Asia


 This paper delves into the historical, environmental, and memory debates around the human-animal relationship in the Sundarbans. The Sundarbans is a protected forest reserve with an impenetrable cluster of laws guarding its forests and exotic animals. These laws often fail to consider the plight of the human inhabitants occupying the same space, which leaves them vulnerable to ignorance and oppression, thereby escalating the extant human-animal strife within the archipelago. The arduous life in the Sundarbans requires constant navigation between the polarities of modern practices, endorsed by the state and law, and the premodern indigenous traditions such as the worshipping of the forest goddess ‘Bonbibi’, to protect themselves from the everyday perils. This paper explores how the inhabitants of the Sundarbans brave both Nature and the State by looking into the narratives of the settlers, gathered through field visits to the Sundarbans. It dwells on the resounding recollection of the joys and struggles in the mangroves, and the trauma of losing life and land on the islands. Drawing on Rob Nixon’s theory of ‘Slow Violence’ and Lawrence Buell’s take on Environmental Memory, this study assesses the fraught question of environmental trauma and justice associated with the marginalisation of humans on the grounds of ecological preservation to highlight the implications of human-animal cohabitation in the Sundarbans through a study of ethnographic and textual sources.