Beastly encounters of the Raj

Livelihoods, livestock and veterinary health in North India, 1790–1920

Author: Saurabh Mishra

The question of cattle has been ignored not just by scholars working on agrarian conditions, but also by historians of medicine in India. This book is the first full-length monograph that examines the history of colonial medicine in India from the perspective of veterinary health. It not only fills this gap, but also provides fresh perspectives and insights that might challenge existing arguments. The book explores a range of themes such as famines, urbanisation, middle-class attitudes, caste formations etc. One of the most striking features of veterinary administration was its preoccupation with the health of horses and military animals until the end of the nineteenth century. Examining veterinary records, it becomes evident that colonial officials were much less imbued with the 'white man's burden' when it came to preserving indigenous cattle stock. The book shows that the question of finances could influence areas such as laboratory research, as is evident in the operations of the Imperial Bacteriological Laboratory. In its account on famines and cattle mortality, it highlights the meagreness and ineffectiveness of relief measures. The book then examines the question of caste identities, especially that of the Chamars (popularly known as leatherworkers). It also explores the process whereby stereotypes regarding caste groups were formed, inspecting how they came to be crystallised over time. A central concern of the book is to study the nature, priorities, and guiding principles of the colonial state. Finally, the book adopts a long-term perspective, choosing to study a rather long chronological period.

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‘Beastly Encounters is a rich source of multiple histories, making up for a lack of cohesion or grand narrative with a plethora of ideas and new avenues for investigation. For historians of medicine, who are often a separate community from mainstream historians, this book serves as a reminder of how this divide is often an artificial one, and how intricately medical history is woven into the fabric of our broader histories.'
Neeraja Sankaran, Ph.D, Independent Scholar
Journal of the History of Medicine
September 2016

‘Overall, this book is a fine read that should be consulted by scholars and students of the history of public health and veterinary medicine, but also in general South Asian history.'
Manikarnika Dutta Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine University of Oxford
South Asia Research 37.1
February 2017

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