“The Poor Remain”: A Posthumanist Rethinking of Literary Humanitarianism in Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People

Jennifer Rickel


Human rights have become a dominant framework through which to narrate and read political violence. Indra Sinha’s Animal’s People questions humanitarian rhetoric that promises to rescue the poor, and it challenges the construction of a humanitarian reader. Through a reading of the novel, I argue that narrating politically situated events as humanitarian concerns dislocates suffering from its source rather than disrupting the transnational power structures that allow for slow violence and the supposed ‘dehumanization’ of individuals and groups. The narrative structure of literary humanitarianism, which the novel satirizes, suggests that readers may perform a humanitarian act by bearing witness to trauma, and it encourages privileged readers to contemplate suffering as a depoliticized crisis of the imagination. I analyze how Animal’s People challenges such a project by mixing the metaphors of seeing and hearing, unsettling ‘the human,’ and critiquing humanitarian journalism for effacing economic and political realities like those of the 1984 gas leak in Bhopal, India. As the novel’s main character deliberates on whether or not to accept humanitarian aid two decades after a gas leak in the fictional city of Khaufpur (a clear stand-in for Bhopal), it presents a posthumanist perspective that problematizes the normative assumptions of literary humanitarianism.



Testimony, human rights, literary humanitarianism, slow violence, posthumanism

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The Johns Hopkins University Press

ISSN: 1920-1222

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