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Modern Asian Studies


This article presents new evidence with which to evaluate the validity of the popular picture of religious environmentalism in India. It examines accounts of a large number of incidents described in Indian language newspapers, the colonial archive, and hunting literature published between the 1870s and 1940s, in which British and other sportsmen clashed with villagers in India while out hunting. During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the colonial sports-hunting obsession was in its heyday, but opposition to hunting across India was also mounting. Rural villagers, in particular, were often willing to become involved in physical combat with hunters, apparently in order to protect local wildlife. Sportsmen often assumed that it was religious fanaticism that made Hindus defend the lives of what they saw as game animals, trophies, and specimens. The article provides evidence that, in addition to religion, a mixture of other motivations explains Hindu interest in the conservation of certain species. Anti-colonial consciousness, assertions of local authority and territoriality, and an environmental ethic can all be identified as being at work. The end result was the increased conservation of certain species of wildlife.