Monday, 26 January 2015

Minding Animals 3, New Delhi, India, January 2015

My animal studies year got off to the perfect start when I attending Minding Animals 3. Having attended the first conference (which was also the third Australasian Animal Studies Association conference in Newcastle, Australia) and then the second in Utrecht, it was my great pleasure to be at the third.

This time Minding Animals was held at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in New Delhi, India. Much of the conference organisation was undertaken by the Wildlife Trust of India:

I had some misgivings about visiting India. Some people love the country, but others told me that after visiting once they would never return. Thankfully I am one of the people who love India. While I didn’t travel too far out of Delhi, I loved being there and I hope to return soon.

Some regular Delhi visitors commented that the number of animals living on the streets of Delhi is now far smaller than in previous years. The city was also in a particular mode as it prepared for US President Obama’s visit.

Yet despite the apparent clean up efforts – both long and short term – I did still see many animals on the street. Most evident were dogs. Dogs appeared to fall into two categories. Those who were clearly ‘owned’ as evidenced by being on a lead or wearing a winter coat, and those who appeared to be un-owned and simply living their own life on the street. The dogs were overwhelmingly healthy looking, friendly and social. Many dogs had cuts in their ears indicating that they had been de-sexed and vaccinated.

This photo was taken around the corner from my hotel. The cow just stood there all day and people fed her. 

Cows were also clearly visible in the city. They did walk among the traffic and did appear to have right of way. I was told that many cows who I would have assumed were street cows were actually ‘owned’ and their movement around the city during the day is simply free time. At night they are collected up by small dairy owners and then milked in the morning, before being released again the next day.

One of the most disturbing things I saw during my trip was a documentary called ‘Plastic Cows’. You can watch it online here: The streets of India are full of rubbish, much of which is plastic waste. The cows eat the plastic and it gets lodged in their first stomach, never to be passed. It creates the illusion that the cows in Delhi are well fed. In fact they are often starving and the bulk is plastic. It is very sad to see.

Monkeys were less present in the city, although we did see some. I didn’t see a single elephant the entire time I was in India.

India truly is the land of vegetarianism. Veganism is (as far as I could tell) almost unheard of. But vegetarianism reigns supreme. My hotel had a daily breakfast buffet. It featured around 12 dishes, 11 of which were always vegetarian. Meat eating is the exception and relegated to the margins of society. This suited me just fine.

The conference featured regular keynotes and parallel sessions. My favourite keynote was by Will Kymlicka: Writing with his partner Sue Donaldson, Kymlicka spoke about whether we are providing animal citizens with adequate choice in their lives. I live tweeted Kymlicka’s paper and you can read the tweets @so_s #MAC3.  

I also enjoyed hearing Erica Fudge: talk about animals in wills in the early modern period. She is trying to understand whether animals were given names during that period. Erica will be a keynote at the upcoming Australasian Animal Studies Association (AASA) conference at the University of Melbourne in July 2015:

But the conference wasn’t just about the keynotes, or even what was said during the sessions. It was also very much about networking, learning who is doing what in the field, and sharing ideas informally.

Networking drinks. The conference seemed to be dominated by Australians. We are quite a loud people!

It was a pleasure to meet Lori Gruen: who hosts the Animals and Society Institute fellowship: each year.

 Dinner with Lori, Fiona and Yvette Watt.

It was great to reconnect with Fiona Probyn-Rapsey who heads up the Human Animal Rights Network (HARN) at the University of Sydney: and to meet Peter Chen: who is also based at Sydney and conducts research into policy networks and animal protection.  

Now that I have moved to the University of New South Wales (UNSW) I will hanging out with the Sydney crew more and more.

But I shouldn’t get into naming individuals because I met and reconnected with so many people that it really isn’t fair to single out just a few.

However, it wasn’t all hard conferencing work. The closing night started on a fascinating note as we heard from Ace Bourke:, one of the people featured in the book and documentary ‘A Lion Called Christian’:

Following the formalities we were treated to an Indian dance show Bollywood style and then a disco. It was so much fun!

Me rocking out Bollywood style. Lots of people in Indian wanted to have their photo taken with me (for some reason).

Thank you to everyone who made Minding Animals 3 so special. I look forward to the next one in 2018!

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