Tag: Mangalore

Immoral Times: Vigilantism in a South Indian City

As I write, the Indian state appears to be flexing its majoritarian muscles through the joint implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC). There is an excellent and balanced summary by Aruna Natarajan on the conjunction between the two processes, and why many people are opposing them published by Citizen Matters.

For many, the anti-Muslim exclusionary tendencies found within joint process of the CAA and NRC are the latest manifestation of a longer process aimed at creating a majoritarian state – an India for Hindus first of all.

My own modest contribution to understanding this process is a chapter (pdf) in the book ‘Majoritarian State: How Hindu Nationalism is Changing India’ edited by Angana P. Chatterji, Thomas Blom Hansen and Christophe Jaffrelot (Hurst, 2019). The book

“…traces the ascendance of Hindu nationalism in contemporary India. Led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the BJP administration has established an ethno-religious and populist style of rule since 2014. Its agenda is also pursued beyond the formal branches of government, as the new dispensation portrays conventional social hierarchies as intrinsic to Indian culture while condoning communal and caste- and gender-based violence.

The contributors explore how Hindutva ideology has permeated the state apparatus and formal institutions, and how Hindutva activists exert control over civil society via vigilante groups, cultural policing and violence. Groups and regions portrayed as ‘enemies’ of the Indian state are the losers in a new order promoting the interests of the urban middle class and business elites. As this majoritarian ideology pervades the media and public discourse, it also affects the judiciary, universities and cultural institutions, increasingly captured by Hindu nationalists. Dissent and difference silenced and debate increasingly sidelined as the press is muzzled or intimidated in the courts. Internationally, the BJP government has emphasised hard power and a fast- expanding security state.”

It’s possible to read an excerpt from Thomas Blom Hansen’s wonderful essay here and an excerpt from the introduction here. You can read my favourite review in The Hindustan Times, further reviews in Frontline & Asian Affairs (paywall) and a very critical one-eyed review in the Financial Express.

In my essay – Immoral Times: Vigilantism in a South Indian City – I explore moral policing in Mangalore (Mangaluru). Drawing on material gathered during 20 months of ethnographic fieldwork undertaken between 2011-2016 I argue that:

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.

You can find versions of the chapter here as a pdf, on academia.edu and on research gate. I strongly recommend you ask your library to order the whole book, or buy a copy if you can afford to do so.

Finally, after reading my chapter (if you so wish), you might also want to read a review of the book published on the  Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) website by Kavita Krishnan. She writes in relation to my essay,

He suggests that the “joint rise of Hindu nationalism and pro-market/anti-state policies in India” since 1991 is both complementary and contradictory. Hindu nationalism, offering an order against the perceived disorder of a state captured by subaltern elements, flourished with the support of middle classes for “CEO-type governance”. Cook suggests that moral policing – instances of violence by Hindu majoritarian groups against young men and women partying together or against displays of inter-faith or inter-caste love – is symptomatic of an “ethical tension” between the majoritarian Hindu state project and the neoliberal development model (which, he assumes, is accompanied by liberalism in “morals”). But is neoliberalism really invested in a relaxing of patriarchal moral codes, and in contradiction to tightening patriarchal restraints and moral policing, as Cook suggests? I had suggested, in an essay ‘Gendered Discipline In Globalising India’ (Feminist Review, July 2018, Volume 119, Issue 1, pp 72–88) that there is a false binary between neoliberal globalisation and the increased attacks on women’s autonomy, both patronised by a Hindu majoritarian government. I had suggested that the organised attacks on women’s autonomy (coded as ‘protecting women’ from the risks entailed by autonomy) is not at odds with corporate-led neoliberal ‘development’. My essay had demonstrated how global and Indian corporations too are hostile to women’s autonomy and are invested in suppressing such autonomy to create a docile labour force – and this is where their interests and those of Hindu majoritarian groups coalesce. Women’s vulnerability in their personal and social lives contributes to their precariousness and exploitability at work. Women’s assertions of autonomy will not remain hermetically sealed in personal spaces of family, household, caste and community: they tend to to leak into workspaces, spurring unionisation and collective social and political action. The ideological and physical attacks on women’s autonomy by “moral policing” squads play to the anxieties of patriarchal social forces concerned with women’s growing visibility and assertion, as well as the anxieties of the political-economy of globalised neoliberal “development” that requires docility.

I think that Kavita misreads or over simplifies my point. I certainly do not assume neoliberalism is accompanied by a liberalism in morals. Rather I suggest that because in contemporary urban India there is no one coherent and dominating value system, for some young middle-class students there is a feeling of ethical ‘freedom’. Freedom here is understood as the freedom to ethically cultivate oneself through various techniques drawn from a diverse range of moral exemplars. This also produces a feeling of helplessness for many.  Here is where the link between the neoliberal state and the appeal of authoritarian movements makes itself apparent: the type of moral ordering offered by vigilante groups is accepted and quietly supported by many in Mangaluru because, at a time when cultural change has led to the opening-up of new possibilities for ethical self-cultivation, the actions of vigilante groups offer a sense of control for many who feel helpless to stop changes they dislike.

In any case, I thank her for the close reading of the chapter and look forward to reading her article in Feminist Review (which sadly, I did not know about when writing the essay).

Mediators who Move the City – When Relations Become Property

In both academic and common parlance there’s plenty of movement-based metaphors surrounding housing and land in India – capital ‘flows’, housing ‘booms’, land is ‘grabbed’ and so on. However, what is usually missing in analyses is an understanding of who or what makes things flow, boom or move. This is especially true in regards to the ‘lower rungs’ of the market. We know very little about the sort of people who bring small pieces of land or property into the market, or help move it from one party to another.

With this in mind I wrote an article for a special issue on property in urban India in the Journal for South Asian Development about land and housing brokers in Mangaluru (formerly Mangalore). Brokers are those individuals who bring two parties together and make a profit on any deal which comes about afterwards. They not only search out deals, but also mediate characteristics such as class, gender, age, religious community and jati (caste). They share many common traits with those middle-men (it is usually always men) who can be found in many different contexts in India – promising college places, driving licenses or marriage partners.

Inland Windsor

To my mind, not only are such people key for understanding how the land and housing market operates, but they are also truly fascinating individuals. Accordingly, the article – available here and here – details the everyday lives and life stories of two brokers, whom I call Mr. Pai and Saleem, as their fortunes rise and fall as they move through their lives and through the city linking parties together.

As I discovered whilst researching amongst these and other brokers, the links brokers have to buyers/tenants or sellers/landlords function as a sort of property themselves. The link’s value is predicated on the worth of the piece of land or housing (as broker’s commission was set by the price), and these links can also be divided amongst two or more brokers – for instance if a broker only knew a seller but not a buyer and another seller they would come together and divide the commission.

From Yekkur to the Ccty

Moreover, these links have a certain rhythm. Often, especially in the rental market, they had to be ‘cashed in’ quickly. There are uncountable brokers – or potential brokers – who would step in if one broker failed to find something for a buyer or renter. This pushed the brokers, but they also had to keep good relations with sellers and landlords, often whom came from their own jati or neighbourhood. Negotiating this asynchrony was an important yet difficult part of the job.

I often wondered if the housing or land markets would function without such individuals. The increasing use of the internet will certainly cut them out to a certain degree, but they offer a service beyond just their ability to forge links. They also traverse the tricky demands people have in regards to jati, religion, gender or age – the sort of demands people often don’t like to put down on paper (or online), but that are there nonetheless. Brokers not only help parties navigate such social categories in the market, but in doing so they also help uphold them – after all the existence of these categories is, in part, what justifies their role.

Court Hill

Capital flows, housing booms and the market moves, but it does not do so without the labour of people working in different ways and in various contexts. Brokers are crucial, if often unnoticed, players in the continued commodification of land and housing in India – a category of people whose labour and lives I hope the article sheds some light on.

Building Castles in the Air

Building Castles in the Air, a photo essay on advertising boards for new housing, has just been published in the open access anthropology journal The Unfamiliar. It’s more interesting than I make it sound here (I hope).

You Call it Home
You can access the article here!