On the Killing and Killability of Animals: Nonmoral Thoughts for the Anthropology of Ethics
Abstract

Abstract:

In this article we explore particular sacred and profane forms in which animals are killed in contemporary India. Taking up religious and secular, rural and urban, industrial and domestic instances from our fieldwork, we examine the affects, doubts, pleasures, cruelties and forms of indifference expressed by our ethnographic interlocutors while witnessing or executing the death of animals. Rather than indicting such acts and emotions, we emphasize a different question within the anthropology of ethics. Instead of asking (only) how one ought to live, we suggest that the question of how one ought to kill is an equally significant question of ethics that is simultaneously long-standing (particularly in South Asian thought) and very contemporary. In relation to discussions of human-animal relations, we show how the idea of “companionship,” variously proposed by Veena Das, Stanley Cavell, and Donna Haraway, is not necessarily a resolution to ethical quandaries, since being together might also involve various forms of mutual violence. Instead, we ask: in thinking of the quality of life, can we also speak of a quality of death? And further, what does it mean for animals (among humans) to be alive or not quite alive in contemporary India?