[The XQs (Ten Questions) series is a conversation with the author of new and exciting works in South Asian Studies, whose aim is not to “review” but to contextualize, historicize and promote new scholarship. We thank Tariq Rahman for conducting this interview. Previously: I, II, III, IV, V.]
Nayanika Mathur is Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Sussex, United Kingdom. She has studied at the Universities of Delhi and Cambridge and has held research fellowships awarded by the British Academy and the Leverhulme Trust at the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences, and Humanities (CRASSH), Cambridge. Her book, Paper Tiger: Law, Bureaucracy and the Developmental State in Himalayan India, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2016.
Tariq Rahman is a doctoral student in anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. His research interests broadly include real estate, financialization, development, the state, genealogy, and Pakistan.
- Please explain the significance of your book’s title, Paper Tiger.
There is an intended double entendre to the title, Paper Tiger. On the one hand, the book is quite literally about paper and tigers. More accurately, it is about paper and leopards but the word in Hindustani – bagh – is the same for tigers and leopard and, furthermore, both these big cat species are protected and governed by the very same legal regime in India. Literality aside, the critical point of the title is to assist in a rethinking of the developmental Indian state. Paper tiger is an oft-used descriptor for the Indian state, particularly with regard to its puzzlingly consistent failure to implement its sophisticated laws, plans, and policies. The phrase, kaghaz ka bagh, was utilized, loudly and poignantly, during a fieldwork episode when a man-eating bagh terrorized the town I was living in for several months. At that point, I was repeatedly told that the Indian state is nothing but a paper tiger (kaghaz ka bagh). That phrase stuck and as I slowly started writing my dissertation, which eventually became this book, I found it an eloquent ethnographically-derived term that could be utilized to conceptually work through broader concerns with the execution of law, workings of bureaucracy, and the tabulation of success/failure in the contemporary Indian state.