Speaker: Nayanika Mathur
Abstract: This paper studies petitions that have been efficacious in their appeals to capture or kill big cats in Himalayan India. In the context of a political culture that experiences inordinately high levels of petitioning, this work asks what makes for a successful petition? Rates of success for any appeal against big cats is rare in contemporary India given the stringent legal regime that is geared almost exclusively towards the protection of charismatic and endangered big cats as well as the hegemonic position occupied by wildlife conservationism. Furthermore, not only is it difficult to petition against cossetted big cats, but also it isn’t an easy task for any petition to be heard and acquiesced to. Through an ethnography of efficacious petitions, this paper makes three related interventions. In the first and in the process of attending to the rarity of a handful of efficacious petitions, this paper argues for expanding our conceptualisation of what, in practice, a petition is. It does so by outlining the changing forms of efficacious petitions that can range from a telephone call, a register entry, a message on a smart phone, to the more traditional paper-based petitions. Beyond its ever-evolving medium this paper demonstrates the criticality of folding petitioning into a wider process that involves planning, performance, perseverance, repetition, and the capacity to elicit visceral responses. Finally, through an ethnographic foregrounding of human-big cat interactions, it demonstrates how an acceptance and elaboration of animal agency enriches the study of politico-legal processes.