Accepted paper:

The reign of terror of the big cat: bureaucracy and waiting in the Indian Himalaya


Nayanika Mathur (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines a series of waiting involved in the management of a man-eating big cat in the Indian Himalaya. Through this ethnography of waiting it shows how a penetrating critique of the operations of the Indian state came to be articulated.

Paper long abstract:

This article dwells on the stakes of waiting for the contemporary Indian state to accomplish its bureaucratic rituals. It is built around an ethnography of the operations of a man-eating leopard in a small Himalayan town in northern India. This big cat went on to haunt the town for over two months killing and wounding several residents before the Indian state was able to hunt him down. I trace the events that transpired during this long wait to show the chilling conflicts in time between the activities of the big cat, the anger and fear of the town residents, the movement of documents and files through different echelons of the state bureaucracy, and the global 'save the cat' discourse that has led to the construction of a draconian wildlife conservationist legal regime in India. I contrast these long waits and delays in the issuance of hunting permits and the concomitant arrival of trained hunters with the promptness with which colonial officials in the British Raj could shoot down tigers and leopards in India. I argue that living through the painfully long reign of terror of the big cat allowed for a cogent and powerful critique of the contemporary Indian state to be articulated and vociferously voiced in this Himalayan town.

panel P40
Ethnographies of waiting