ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Slow Violence of State Apathy

Paper Tiger: Law, Bureaucracy and the Developmental State in Himalayan India by Nayanika Mathur, New Delhi: Cambridge University Press, 2016; pp xxii+192, price not indicated.

Nayanika Mathur undertakes a complex ethnographic journey. In simple terms, her sites are the institutions and terrains that are responsible for the implementation of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). As a progressive poverty alleviation scheme, the launch of the scheme carried great expectations from and of the state. But tracing the MGNREGS takes her into the homes and hearts of many. Crucially, she maps governance as a terrain of sentiment and affect.

The story that unfolds through the generation of a labyrinth of paper is one of uncertainty, precarity and oscillating emotion towards sarkar. Mathur’s ethnography of government is very different from those we have read in the recent past—Akhil Gupta’s Red Tape (2012) and others. Mathur provides an important corrective to the Weberian narrative of the bureaucracy being an impersonal vehicle of rules. Mathur shows emotion, drama, humour, apathy and cunning in the enactment of governance. She further shows the process of spatialisation of the state.

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