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Immoral Times: Vigilantism in a South Indian City



Neoliberalism and right-wing Hindu nationalism complement one another as they both see divisions within society as unnecessary, if not pathological, and create bounded internal and external realms (e.g. the Muslim other, or the welfare agency) in their rhetoric of ongoing revolutionary transformation. However, and here we turn towards the source of trouble on Mangaluru's streets, whereas the individualism celebrated by economic liberalism offers 'freedom' (whilst holding the market supreme and punishing those who disrupt it), the individual within a majoritarian vision is always subordinated to the good of the Hindu community. This entwines with a perceived loss of national sovereignty with the deepening penetration of global capital, leading to attempts at controlling 'national culture', more often than not in ways that uphold rigid conceptions of gender and sexual identities. As such, and as I will detail below, there is an ethical tension at the heart of this Hindu majoritarian and market-led development project: the continuing ‘opening-up’ of the Indian economy has also opened-up ethical questions. The same groups who celebrate ‘India’s moment’ after centuries of national impediment due to Muslim, colonial and then ‘socialist’ rule are also often those who are deeply troubled by the effects of these changes in terms of cultural purity, gender norms, and youthful experimentation. Moral policing, I argue, is one of the ways in which this ethical tension reveals itself. I will make this argument based on material gathered during 20 months of ethnographic fieldwork undertaken between 2011-2016.
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... Following this argument, we are inclined to conclude that the meanings and implications of the extensive and institutionalized form of vigilante violence in the region is a central strategy as well as a manifestation of hard neo-Hindutva. Scholars like Shani and Menon have argued that the vigilante violence unleashed by the Hindutva militant groups works through an externalization of caste contradictions (Menon, 2006;Shani, 2010) whereas Cook (2019) traces the genesis of this violence and moral policing to the tension and contradiction between Hindu nationalism and market-led neoliberalism in Mangalore. For Cook, the moral ordering through vigilantism gives a sense of coherence and control amidst the rapid cultural and economic change brought about by rapid globalization, a view also echoed by scholars such as David Strohl who highlight the tension between moral panic on love jihad and the individualized political subjectivity promoted by the neoliberal conception of citizenship (Strohl, 2019). ...
... The common thread in the discourse of moral policing and love jihad is the gendered moral obligation of the Hindu males to protect Hindu women from 'lustful and virulent' Muslims and 'immoral western culture', though the use of gendered metaphors that vary with regional contexts. The violence unleashed in order to protect women and 'Hindu culture' becomes a means to safeguard the Hindu family and Hindu nation and also to restore a normative moral, social relation, which is increasingly corrupted by the influence of the 'other' (Cook, 2019;Gupta, 2001;Strohl, 2019). In this sense, moral vigilantism becomes an essential way of realizing the moral order of the ethnic nation in which religious communities remain in separate and mutually exclusive social, physical and imagined spaces. ...
... 13 Between 2010 and 2018, around 60 incidents of violence and vigilantism by Muslim groups were reported in coastal Karnataka and the PFI figured prominently in these incidents (Pinto and Misquith, 2018). In his article on Mangalore, Ian M Cook observes that moral vigilantism was not only confined to the Hindu organizations, but a third of such instances of vigilantism between 2013 and 2015 were carried out by Muslim organizations (Cook, 2019). Members of the PFI were also allegedly involved in violence that broke out in Kyatamaranhalli (Mysore) in 2009 and around 38 cases were registered against the members of the PFI following the incident (The News Minute, 2015). ...
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We examine the competing processes of ethnicization taking place among Hindu and Muslim religious communities in the coastal region of Karnataka state in South India in the broader context of hegemonic ascendancy of Hindu nationalism in the country. We describe how an array of militant Hindutva organizations use an institutionalized system of religious vigilantism and violence against minorities to construct an ethnicized, exclusivist moral community of Hindus in the region. This construction of an ethno-Hinduism by a clever depoliticizing of caste inequalities and violence seeks to produce and naturalize religious difference into an incorrigible and exclusivist ethnic identity that thrives on a continuous process of enemy-making. Responding to this predatory ethnicization executed by militant Hindutva organizations, and capitalizing on the pervasive sense of alienation and anxiety of the Muslims in the region, radical Islamic organizations engage in a counter-predatory ethnicization of Muslim communities in the region. These organizations, while officially articulating secular positions, use the language of self-defence and securitization, coupled with radical Islamic identity for mass mobilization, to create an exclusive Islamic moral community, often mirroring the tactics of Hindutva vigilante organizations. We conclude that these competing processes of ethnicization of religious identities and the emergence of a ‘vigilante public’ will have far-reaching consequences for the central facets of democracy such as citizenship and secularism while leaving the socio-cultural spaces in coastal Karnataka highly polarized on religious lines and peaceful co-existence of religious communities challenging and undesirable.
... Contrary to its official position as a secular organization and ideologically opposed to the Hindutva forces, the PFI has effectively used a radical assertive Islamist identity to mobilize the Muslim youth in coastal Karnataka to challenge Hindutva vigilantism, often in ways that mirror the modus operandi of their Hindutva counterparts. One-third of the incidents of moral vigilantism that took place in coastal Karnataka between 2013 and 2015 were carried out by Muslim vigilantes (Cook 2019). According to the Communal Harmony 14. ...
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This paper examines the changing nature of Muslim political mobilization in contemporary India in the context of Hindu nationalism’s ascendancy into power and the consequent crisis of traditional Muslim politics. Through an ethnographic case study of the Popular Front of India, we argue that a qualitatively new form of political mobilization is taking place among Indian Muslims centered on an articulation of “self-defense” against a “Hindu nationalist threat.” This politics of self-defense is constructed on the reconciliation of two contradictory processes: use of extensive legal pragmatism, and defensive ethnicization based on Islamic identity. The paper also examines the consequences of the emerging politics of competing ethnicization for even a normative and minimal idea of secularism and how it contributes to the process of decoupling of secularism and democracy in contemporary India.
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Digital audio technologies have expanded the methodological possibilities for anthro-pological research. This article explores some of the implications of using podcasting as an anthropological method, specifically an experiment in which interlocutor interviews were regularly published as part of an exploration into digital politics in India. The article uses the reflexive insights garnered from making the series to interrogate the possibilities of interlocutor interview podcasting for anthropology. Further to this, it exploits the interlocutors' expertise on digital practices to reverse the analytical gaze, asking what their experiences of the digitalising Indian public sphere can teach us about changing academic/anthropological practices, especially regarding the enabling (or not) of new ways of speaking, vocal performances, the possibility for immediate publishing, and celebrations of newness. Building from these critical appraisals, it is suggested that the latent promise of interlocutor interview podcasting lies in the potential to create 'aural intimacy' and a 'circulating copresence'.
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