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Accueil > Colloques, journées d’étude > GIS Asie > GIS Asie 2015

Taking Nature to the Courtroom in Asia

panel organized by Daniela Berti, Anthony Good and Raphaël Voix as a panel in the 5th Congress of the Réseau Asie (9-11 Sept. 2015, Paris)

Wednesday 9 September 2015, 2 pm - 6 pm, room 11

Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales (INALCO), 65 rue des Grands Moulins, 75013 - Paris

Recent studies on development projects and the management of natural resources in different parts of the world have highlighted the growing role of the courts in disputes concerning the protection of the environment. This judicialisation of environmental conflicts is especially important in Asia and has led to the introduction of specific courts in China, the Philippines, Thailand and India - where ’Green Benches’ and a ’National Green Tribunal’ have been established. Numerous complaints have been filed to oppose projects affecting the environment, notably by villagers when their rights are threatened. Such litigation is facilitated in some countries, by the process of ’Public Interest Litigation’ (PIL), allowing the involvement of NGOs and even initiatives by the Court itself.

Arguments made in court may refer to modern concepts such as ecology, sustainable development, and a scientific approach to nature. In some cases, these discourses also mingle with religious arguments. In India, for example, litigation has opposed villagers to hydro-electric project developers, tourist resorts, etc., accused not only of harming the environment but also of disturbing or destroying an area said to be inhabited by a deity. The actions of animal protection associations may also coincide with religious reform movements, and appeal to the court to abolish ritual practices, such as animal sacrifices, that are seen as incompatible with ideas of modernity and animal rights.

In this panel we intend to address these issues through the study of court cases (court documents, speeches by protagonists) in their official and legal dimensions as well as their unofficial aspects.

Session A : Banning Animal Sacrifice in India (2 pm - 3.45 pm)

Anthony Good (University of Edinburgh) :
Sacrifice and the Law in Tamil Nadu, South India

Animal sacrifice forms the climax of many Tamil religious festivals, even though legislation banning such sacrifices has been on the statute book since 1950. The paper begins by describing the part played by animal sacrifice in a typical village goddess festival. It then considers the debates surrounding the passing of the Madras Animals and Birds Sacrifices Prevention Act, and addresses the somewhat puzzling question of its initial non-enforcement. It asks why the state government suddenly insisted upon implementing this ban in 2003, more than 50 years afterwards, only to reverse its policy a few years later to the extent even of repealing the Act in question. The paper seeks to understand these seemingly arbitrary policy reversals as manifestations of tensions between reformist, urbanised, often high-caste Hindus and their traditionally minded, largely rural, counterparts. In modern India, a constitutionally-secular state which nonetheless guarantees freedom of belief, faith, and worship, the struggles between these two competing visions of religiosity have frequently taken on political and legal dimensions too.

Raphaël Voix (CNRS, CEIAS)
Just Do it but not in Public. Courts and the Practise of Animal Sacrifice in West Bengal

Animal sacrifice, despite criticism by many Bengali Hindu reformers,is still a widespread practice in West Bengal. To this day, however, and contrary to other states, there has been no Public Interest Litigation calling to the High Court for the eradication of this practice. Instead, calls have been about the visual concealment of sacrificing and skinning animals. The rhetoric is thus about protecting Hindu religious sentiment while also protecting the public’s visual experience of the temple. This paper will compare situations and courts’ rulings about animal sacrifice in two Bengali temples dedicated to the Goddess : the Kalighat temple in Kolkata and the Tara temple in Tarapith. Data for the first case will be based on the analysis of a recent anthropological work conducted by Deonnie Moodie, while information for the second case will draw on personal research. Comparing the two situations will help to question the existence of regional specificity in the judicial treatment of animal sacrifice.

Daniela Berti (CNRS, CEH) :
Animal sacrifice on trial. Conflict of values and political stakes in North India

In September 2014, animal sacrifices were banned in the state of Himachal Pradesh (North India) by a judgment of the High Court, which made headlines in the newspapers. The decision provoked surprise and dismay amongst the people involved in the management of temples, more so because the goddess festival was imminent and numerous sacrifices were scheduled. Some temple administrators along with a raja-politician - a goddess devotee - took the advice of the gods (through their mediums) and decided to appeal to the Supreme Court of India, in the name of freedom of religion. Others, by contrast, who had petitioned the Court along with ecologists in order to abolish the ‘cruelty inflicted on poor innocents’, welcomed the Court’s determination to end what the judgment denounced as ‘an evil custom in a society of computer era’. Based on the court file and on ethnographic data, I will analyze how, beyond the official and ‘public’ aspects of the case, which referred to legal, ritual, reformist, and ecological arguments or to animal welfare, other framings of the story, highlighted by the protagonists outside the court, emphasized various economic or political issues.

Session B : Managing Nature in Asia (4.15 pm - 6.00 pm)

Valérie Vandenabeele (LESC)
The management of the natural environment apart from the ecologist concern : an example from Southwestern China

In Northwestern Yunnan (China), Pudacuo National Park is a meeting place for diverging projects aiming to the exploitation of the natural environment. Though its creation was initiated by the United-States non-governmental organization The Nature Conservancy (TNC), this park has in fact little to do with the conservationist approach. Rather, it aims to nurture the local economic development through mass tourism, according to the plan of the authorities of the Diqing Tibetan autonomous Prefecture, with whom TNC had gone to partnership.
Despite the deterioration of the area it has needed, this second position is well accepted by the surrounding Tibetan villagers, who want to see their living conditions improve and ignore the logic of ecological theories. This is probably related to the fact that the sacred territories they value the most have been kept away from the touristic flow. As for TNC, it preferred to withdraw from the project discreetly, without daring to take to court or call upon higher authorities, despite the fact that the authorities didn’t respect the agreement which bounded them.

Diane Philiponet (University Toulouse Jean-Jaurès)
Divine Nuisances. State Management of Problems linked to Monkeys in North Indian Cities

In India, the city is part of the natural environment for several monkeys species. Though their presence here has been encouraged by mankind, through initiatives to introduce and domesticate them, these monkeys are above all attracted by any opportunities that cities offer to eat and find shelter. Their increasing number has created nuisances : threats, attacks, bites, thefts and material damage are now part and parcel of daily life for the city-dwellers, who regularly turn to government institutions for solutions, which more often than not consist in "getting rid of monkeys". Based on fieldwork I carried out in Varanasi and Rishikesh and on an analysis of press articles, this contribution examines the solutions implemented by local autorities to reduce the population of rhesus macaques in cities, which meet both the needs of the inhabitants and the injunctions issued by the courts who are called upon via complaints and petitions. The role of municipalities, of the Forestry Department, of the police and of monkey-charmers is discussed. I also address the issue of monkeys’ protected status in Hinduism, which fuels opposition to the measures taken from part of the population, and lays down restrictions that the Indian secular state has to respect.

Barbara Tadié (EHESS)
Water and the Supreme Court : Rights, Hydropower and Public Interest Litigation in Nepal

Hydropower projects have been perhaps the most disputed single issue of development in Nepal, and the supreme court has been repeatedly summoned through Public Interest Litigations (PILs) to play a role in these conflicts. The latter involve not only a range of social actors and institutional powers at the national level, but include also relationships with India and international donor agencies. In this complex interplay, PILs themselves have become an object of contestation. Through an analysis of these hydropower-related litigations and the debate they have generated, I will first attempt to shed light on the main issues underlying the hydropower conflict : economic development, nationalism, and rights. I will then consider the diverging narratives of « development » on the opposite sides of the hydropower debate. These narratives can be considered as « hydro-myths », as they aim at explaining the origins of the present situation of development impasse and at orienting future action. I will finally compare different verdicts to highlight the evolving role of the supreme court in defining nature, rights, national interests and the duty of the state.