The current ecological crisis and its accompanying environmental consciousness has prodded many to reject Western dualism and instead embrace animism. Taking the Sundarbans forests of India as a starting point, the author shows how several animated, nonhuman agents of the region guide both resource use and social relationships through a set of rules known as the “rules of the jungle.” The source of these rules are deities, demons, and spirits—that is, “cosmic polities”—that undeniably govern life in the Sundarbans and across the landscape of South Asia. Mehtta shows how such nonhuman forms of governance and animistic ontologies can act as a source not only of care and an ecological consciousness but also are capable of exclusion and discrimination. Consequently, the South Asian context provides an important cautionary tale about the blind embrace of animism as the sole savior of our ecological crisis by revealing a spectrum of violence within certain strands of animistic ontologies. Simultaneously the author shows how Western repertoires of thought reveal framing devices that transcend dualism and may be read as the precursors of contemporary environmental consciousness. This article ultimately proposes the importance of acknowledging a bricolage of ontologies and realities without entrenching them in a particular identity of caste, tribe, or “indigeneity” or in being of “the West” or of “the rest of the world.”

You do not currently have access to this content.