Vigilantism in a South Indian City
Cook examines the context and function of the ongoing moral and cultural policing of young people and minorities in Mangaluru by vigilante Hindu groups with government complicity. Based on long term ethnographic fieldwork with the city’s burgeoning population of students and underemployed youth, Cook argues that the violence is fueled by the resentment against what is seen as the cultural pollution of ‘excessive’ freedom among middle class youth. Many of the vigilantes are underemployed youth, structurally shut out from gainful employment and prestigious education. Instead they assume positions as self-appointed guardians of Indian culture and putative ‘Hindu values’, as well as protectors of young women against the seductions of western immorality, and the imagined sexual predation by men from the minority community. Cook explains this as a contradiction within neo-liberalism: a tension between the ‘Western cultural values’ that are resented by the vigilantes, and their simultaneous celebration of a neo-liberal culture of economic freedom that they hope will deliver them into a life of success. Their failure in the latter seems to fuel their commitment to combat the former.
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