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Sumitai

The vigilante in Mumbai’s slums
Atreyee Sen
Traduction(s) :
Sumitai

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Bombay, capitale commerciale, mondiale et mondaine de l’Inde, est souvent appelée « Slum-bai » (« Bombidonville ») par ses habitants. On y retrouve le plus grand bidonville de l’Asie, Dharavi, ainsi que plusieurs autres ensembles illégaux. Ce portrait trace la trajectoire de vie de Sumitai, une immigrée rurale qui habite un de ces bidonvilles. Pour vivre avec un minimum de dignité, de soutien et de confort, et pour assurer une vie meilleure à sa fille dans cette colonie urbaine périphérique, elle rejoint l’aile féminine d’un parti d’extrême-droite local et participe aux activités justicières que celle-ci promeut.

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1I have a shiny trinket in my cabinet. It belonged to Sumitai, a rural migrant in the slums of Mumbai. She wore it around her neck till the day she died. I loved this little piece of cheap metal. It reflected the afternoon sun and made golden patterns on my wrist while we chatted. Other slum dwellers slept or were at work or ignored us. But Sumitai always had time to tell me stories about her life. In the afternoon heat. Under a shady tree, on a cement seat, with just enough space for two, we would sip tea, and she would explain the everyday philosophies of life generated in the context of urban poverty and migration. An anthropologist’s delight.

2Her death diminishes me…

Finding Mumbai

3Sumitai was born ‘she didn’t know when’. I am guessing sometime in the 1960s. She was married to a farmer when she was very young, and she had a daughter ‘she didn’t know when’. She didn’t enjoy having sex with her husband. Initially he found sex confusing, but he got the hang of it in the end. Sex irritated her, but it seemed to satisfy her husband. She didn’t remember much of him. She had only one black-and-white photo of the two of them. She did, however, remember the fair at which she had the photo taken. It was near her village, and people from low-caste groups could go there freely. Her husband bought her green bangles at the fair.

4Sumitai remembers how she was widowed at a very young age. She was barely twenty. Her husband was in pain and was stroking his chest all night. In the early hours he began throwing up, and by dawn he was dead. The neighbours laid out his body on the ground in front of their village hut, and sent for his brothers. The brothers cremated his body, and the women in the village gathered around Sumitai. The women didn’t ask her to mourn loudly, bang her head against the wall in grief, or break her green bangles, nor did they ask her to wear a widow’s sari. The men were disgruntled, but the elder women, some of them widows, argued that Sumitai was just too young. She also had a two-year-old to care for, and this was not the time to perform customary rituals. Sumitai said she suffered, not out of grief for her husband or her state of widowhood, but at the hands of her in-laws. The brothers who came to cremate her husband’s body also dabbed her thumb in ink and made her stamp some documents. They came back after a few days and claimed her husband’s land. They let her have a small piece of land adjacent to their hut, but this didn’t produce enough grain to feed her child. Also the village women, who had stood by Sumitai through the loss of her husband, didn’t stand by her through the loss of her land.

5Sumitai was desperate. There was never enough food, and there would be days when her daughter would go hungry. The little plot of land around the house eventually became an open toilet for them. They could use it for shitting or pissing and not much else. Sumitai remembers the sound of her daughter crying. Sometimes a kindly neighbour would pass by and give her some food. She sold or pawned all the little bits of jewellery and metal dishes that she got for her wedding. She thought of prostituting herself to the village elders, but struggled with the idea.

6Why didn’t she go back to her father’s home? ‘Pride,’ she said. Her father and uncles did not visit her or comfort her when she was widowed. They were obviously anxious that she would insist on returning with them. Sumitai felt that if she had had a son, there was a chance that her paternal family would have taken her back to their native village. Two abandoned girls involved a lot of responsibility. A village elder eventually suggested that Sumitai try her luck in Mumbai. ‘Can I have sex with you instead?’ she asked. ‘Will you pay me for it?’ He said he might have if he was younger, but he was too old to pay for sex. Also he wasn’t sure whether he should have sex with someone from outside his caste. Sumitai realized she didn’t have a chance at prostitution in her village, where the men were so confused about sex and caste. Eventually she took her daughter and boarded a train in the direction of Mumbai. She had no ticket. She didn’t have any money. Just a few pieces of flatbread to chew on. So her journey was fitful. Sumitai was offloaded like ‘unwanted baggage’ by a few unkind ticket collectors; some others were charitable and sympathized as she was travelling alone with a small child. After changing between several trains, and asking random people at station platforms, ‘Does this train go to Mumbai?’, she eventually made it. She stepped off a train and someone told her, ‘You have found it, this is Mumbai.’ This is not where her story ends.

7For I have more…

The slum and the sea

8Sumitai didn’t know where to go from the station. She looked around and saw the milling crowds of Mumbai, and knew she had to find shelter for her child very quickly. She stared hard at a man in a cigarette shop who looked old, like the village elder. She had no money, and she knew that he could not swindle her out of anything precious. She approached him tentatively, and asked whether there was a place for her to stay, for free. She would try to find work the next day. ‘Where are you from,’ he asked. She mentioned her village, her family details, her widowhood and the loss of property. The man said if she stayed overnight on the platform, the police would hassle her for money or sexual favours. He asked Sumitai to wait till his son arrived and took charge of the shop, and then he would take her to a slum.

9Sumitai felt lucky. The man gave her a bun and potatoes, which she ate with her daughter. She sat at the edge of the platform, looking at the trains chugging into the station. She was mesmerized by the number of people who alighted from these trains. There were people hanging from train doors and windows. There were other trains where people crouched on top of the coaches. Sumitai wondered how she would get work in this city, where so many people arrive every day in search of employment. She felt a pat on her head, and looked up to see that the kind cigarette shop man had already picked up her daughter on his shoulders. At this point of her story, I am waiting for the cigarette shop man to be a serial rapist who held her in captivity and forced her daughter into prostitution. But that is not what happened. ‘He was actually a kind man,’ laughed Sumitai. He took her and her daughter to a slum across the bridge. He didn’t live there all the time, but he knew a woman who was looking for someone who could work as a maid in an upper-middle-class apartment complex nearby. If she found a partner to share the workload, then the woman could service quite a few apartments in the housing colony. That would be more profitable for her, even if she split the earnings. Sumitai was relieved that she had found work very quickly. She realized that the woman was very old, slow in her work, and didn’t want to lose her only source of income. The woman found a small shack for Sumitai and her daughter, and so began her journey in Mumbai.

10Sumitai and her new elderly friend would go to the housing colonies and bribe the security guards to let them in. They would knock on doors and offer their services, ask for one person’s salary for two. Over the course of a week, Sumitai figured out that her friend broke things, was too bent to clean utensils properly, could not wash clothes, could not carry heavy buckets, and could not stand straight enough to hang clothes on the line. But Sumitai still shared her money equally, purely out of gratitude: the old woman found her work and a place to stay, all in a day in Mumbai’s ballooning informal economy. She later discovered that the man at the cigarette shop was also the old woman’s visiting lover, and Sumitai found their old-age romance charming. She was shocked that she wasn’t shocked by it. She felt she was becoming urban.

11Every day, Sumitai took her daughter with her to work and she played outside. She hoped that the security guards would keep an eye on her. And every evening, she would take her daughter to the sea. She had never seen the sea herself, and she wanted her daughter to enjoy the sand and the fresh air. She remembers the day her elderly friend didn’t wake up from her sleep. Once again, there were men who arrived and insisted that she vacate her shanty and find shelter elsewhere. Once again, the local women gathered around her and fended off these attacks. Sumitai had a feeling of déjà vu. But she had lost her will to live. She decided to take her own life, and the life of her child. She didn’t know when she would do it, but she knew that she would like the sea to take them. She went to the waterfront one day and walked into the waves—to prepare herself. When things became unbearable, this would be her watery grave. She stood there for a long time talking to the seawater swirling around her.

12To teach the sea what it may do too soon…

The politician and the predator

13In the few days following the death of her workmate, the slum women told Sumitai that they could protect her if she joined a local right-wing political party. The party supports women in slum areas, she was told. Sumitai didn’t know politics. Men voted, and women didn't understand governance, according to old village wisdom. A few slum women, with whom she had developed an acquaintance, urged her to attend some political meetings in the city, where the leader of the party would give a speech.

Fig. 1a. Mahila Aghadi meeting at the Shiv Sena party offices, 2000.

Fig. 1a. Mahila Aghadi meeting at the Shiv Sena party offices, 2000.

© Atreyee Sen.

Fig. 1b.

Fig. 1b.

© Atreyee Sen.

14This party was called the Shiv Sena (Shiv’s Army), she was told. Sumitai went with her daughter to listen to this politician. His name was Bal Thackeray. Her friends referred to him as Balasaheb, which was fairly reverential. She wondered what the man was like. Sumitai was impressed. He was articulate, strong, spoke in a language she could understand. Balasaheb said there were no jobs in Mumbai. With thousands of migrants coming into the city every day looking for work, people living in Mumbai were jobless. There was no future for the poor children of Mumbai. It was important to ensure that jobs were saved for the poor, and it was imperative that people use violence and aggression to snatch what was rightfully theirs.

15Sumitai identified with the sentiment. She remembered that moment when she saw swarms of people alighting from the trains and purposefully marching out of the station. She knew she was one of them. Then. But this was now. She was afraid that she would lose the jobs that she had secured through her friend, especially if the elite householders were to find out that she was now working alone. Her pace of work might be slower. Everyone is in a hurry in Mumbai, she thought.

16Sumitai went back to work. Some of the women in the fancy apartments let her in. Others had found substitute maids while Sumitai was away cremating her friend. One day a male employer touched her breasts while she was cleaning the floor. The next day, he did it again. She tried to catch the attention of his wife, but she was busy watching television. She sobbed at home. I wondered why she had cried. She was openly offering her body to the village elder. But now that she was earning, she didn’t want to do ‘that’ anymore. Then she was desperate, now she had dignity. She asked the slum women, ‘How can the politician help me?’ They said if she joined the party, she could keep her shanty, keep her earnings, and the women would ensure that she was safe. ‘How?’ she wondered.

Fig. 2a. Images of Bal Thackeray hanging from the walls in a Mumbai slum.

Fig. 2a. Images of Bal Thackeray hanging from the walls in a Mumbai slum.

© Atreyee Sen.

Fig. 2b.

Fig. 2b.

© Atreyee Sen.

17Sumitai signed up. She liked the politician; he spoke ‘true words’. He said that women in the slums should use chilli powder to blind sexual predators; he said poor women should carry a small knife for self-protection during work. Sumitai felt vulnerable going back to work in that apartment. When the employer touched her breasts again, she screamed, but his wife accused her of being a slut, and threw her out. She went to the party women. ‘Prove it, that you can save my job,’ she demanded. The women gathered in the evening and trotted over to the apartment. They knocked on the door, and when the wife opened it they walked right in. They threatened her, threatened her husband, and said: ‘We will break your legs if you ever accuse a poor woman of having loose morals again.’ The husband and wife yelled: ‘We will call the police.’ ‘Try it,’ the women said, ‘we will wait for them to come.’ The wife called the police, but the local police officer hung up on her. ‘So where were we?’ asked the women; ‘yes, breaking your legs…’ The couple apologized and doubled Sumitai’s salary. Sumitai was aghast, but she enjoyed every moment of it. The man never touched her again. And the couple didn’t complain even when she did sloppy work. ‘Why did the police not arrive?’ Sumitai asked the slum women. ‘Because they are afraid of the politician,’ they said. And so began her new journey with a right-wing, Hindu nationalist party in Mumbai. She didn’t understand what Hindu nationalism meant—she was not educated enough to understand big words—but she knew that the local party workers protected her, and that was good enough for her vote.

18The sun was setting, and Sumitai wanted to return to her shack to cook. She said she would tell me another story tomorrow. I felt privileged.

19These three hours that we have spent…

The daughter and the doorman

20Sumitai’s daughter was renamed as Amvi, a powerful goddess, by local slum dwellers. While I thought there was a romantic, feminist connotation to this, Sumitai said it was because it was easier to get children with nice-sounding names into local schools. Also children with informal, village names get teased and bullied all the time. The Shiv Sena party workers pressured the principal of a local school and got Amvi admitted as a new student. Sumitai was very emotional about it. She never forgot to pay the fees, and even if she had to borrow money, she ensured that Amvi never stayed out of school. She even used ‘guilt-tripping’ as a strategy to get books and pencils for her. Not all her employers were bad people. When the men were away, and she was alone with women employers in the apartment, she would ask them for money to help with stationery. These elite women would be impressed that Sumitai was trying to keep a girl child in school, and not forcing Amvi to help with domestic work, or add to family income by joining Mumbai’s expansive child labour sector. Sumitai was sure that the party would give her daughter a chance to live a better life in the city.

21Shiv Sena’s agenda changed over time. Sometimes they hated migrants; sometimes they hated South Indians; sometimes they hated Muslims. Sumitai didn’t care. She meticulously attended party meetings, and escorted party women when they were trying to save other slum women from sexual harassment. She wanted to return to them what they had given to her. Sumitai became renowned as a local Shiv Sena worker. No one hassled her anymore. The party and the politician grew bigger and more powerful. Shiv Sena gained fresh notoriety when they started executing and assassinating people and other politicians who got in the way of their success. The party started to hassle local factory owners, big employers and small entrepreneurs to only employ party workers. Poor people started joining the Shiv Sena in droves: they got jobs, police protection and could walk around safely without being targeted by all kinds of predators. Sumitai got an illegal water connection. Later she even intimidated a local cable operator and got an illegal television connection to her little shanty after a generous employer donated his old television set to her. Sumitai went back to the beach and told the sea that it was not going to claim her. She had survived.

22The party went on to form its own women’s wing, and a few years after that the women actively participated in the infamous Mumbai communal riots (1992-3). In a huge populist propaganda effort, the Shiv Sena called on the women to help the party eliminate the Muslims, and slum women responded to the call in large numbers. They attacked Muslims, their shops and their homes. They formed human shields to protect their men when the police came to arrest them. The riots went on for two months, and for that entire time, women rioted. I asked Sumitai why she hated Muslims enough to want to attack their lives and property. Did they really take away jobs in Mumbai? ‘I didn’t hate Muslims at all,’ she said. She didn’t care enough about saving them. She didn’t want to sacrifice the support and benefits she got from the party over the years. It was a fair trade-off, she thought.

23Amvi was fourteen when she fell in love with an older doorman at the nearby restaurant. He gave her money to have fun. Sumitai didn’t know about the affair. She assumed that when she was away working, Amvi was in school, until one day a Shiv Sena party worker, a young and enthusiastic newcomer, came to her shanty and warned her about the affair. He said that the doorman was also a Shiv Sena worker. He didn’t want a rift with the women party workers, and encouraged Sumitai to control her daughter. Sumitai felt humiliated. She had a good reputation in the local branch and she felt terrible after being chastised by a junior male member of the party. She started to abuse Amvi in a fit of anger. The whole neighbourhood heard that argument. When Amvi told her to get lost, Sumitai slapped her daughter for the first time. She felt worse when Amvi threatened elopement. After all that she had done to save the life of her daughter: move from the village, spend over a decade in the slums of Mumbai in squalid conditions, work terribly hard trying to improve the conditions of her shanty. And this was how Amvi showed her gratitude? Sumitai was unsure whether Amvi was sexually active. But she didn’t care. Amvi was never to see the man again, she warned her. But Sumitai had no real way of keeping an eye on her daughter without losing her position in the fast-changing economy of domestic service. She asked neighbouring slum women to keep Amvi under surveillance as much as possible, as she didn’t want to lose the support of the party.

24Sumitai was perplexed as to why her daughter would want to become a slut when she was offering her an opportunity to go down a moral path. Sumitai had been at the brink of slipping, because she didn’t have a choice. But why would Amvi not value her choice? Amvi told her that going to school, coming back to the slum, cooking, helping with domestic chores, doing homework, watching TV, was boring for her. Hanging out with the doorman gave her excitement. But she acquiesced to her mother’s demands, only because she didn’t want to leave school and spend all her time in the shanty. Sumitai didn’t understand this need for excitement. Amvi has not seen the face of death, she is spoilt, she thought.

25One day on her way back from school, Amvi was strangled and killed by the doorman. He could not handle her rejection. He waited for her outside the school, but Amvi would ignore him. He was frustrated and started to drink. He didn’t turn up for work, and the restaurant finally had to let him go. They informed the party that they needed a new doorman. The job had many takers. One had to wear a nice uniform and open doors for affluent people. It didn’t involve hard labour. The party sent another man, which left Amvi’s bereft lover even more angry and anguished.

26Amvi’s body was taken to the hospital, where she was declared dead. Sumitai was informed by the party workers that she needed to collect the body from the morgue. The killer doorman was on the run. Some party officials warned her not to make a noise about the incident, and thereby bring disrepute upon the Shiv Sena. She was told that this was like a family matter, a Shiv Sena man killing a Shiv Sena woman’s daughter, and should be resolved internally. Sumitai was given a lot of support over the next few months: money, food, care. Her rent was paid. She was repeatedly reassured how the women party workers were taking turns and attending to the households where she served. Her jobs would still be there when she felt better.

Fig. 3. Mahila Aghadi meeting, Mumbai 1998.

Fig. 3. Mahila Aghadi meeting, Mumbai 1998.

© Atreyee Sen.

27Sumitai didn’t understand why these women took her for a fool. She knew she was being pacified in case she kicked up a fuss about her daughter’s murder. But she didn’t. The doorman was never found. Sumitai’s life had changed forever. Once again. Her life was going to be filled with different emotions.

28Of absence, darkness, death…

The aged and the alienated

29As Sumitai grew older, her joints became painful; she wasn’t agile. She remembered arriving in Mumbai for the first time and the plight of her elderly friend. But Sumitai felt the new generation of slum women had no gratitude. Younger women had started to take over the helm of party affairs, and became the local, new-age and upfront women vigilantes. They became popular for organizing powerful political demonstrations on a variety of gender issues, ranging from the rise in gas prices to women’s sexual vulnerability in the city. Sumitai watched their enthusiasm from afar. As she grew older, she was not invited by the younger women to accompany them while they confronted unfair or predatory employers. Some of the older women, who were around when her daughter died, were also returning to their villages, or had moved to other slum areas to live closer to their children. People forgot about Sumitai’s silence and sacrifice, the fact that she kept her mouth shut to allow the party to plough on without a scandal. She remembered how (in her time) slum women had thrashed corrupt employers rather discreetly, indoors. They didn’t want to attract undue attention to themselves. The new generation of Shiv Sena women were open about their activities, whether it was related to ferocious displays of solidarity with the party, or their daily tasks of delivering informal justice: openly knocking on the doors of slum women who had complained about abusive spouses, dragging violent husbands onto the street, and then slapping them with shoes until they begged for forgiveness.

30These women are bold, Sumitai thought. However, they didn’t remember their history. It was people like Sumitai who had rallied around the politician and his party, and it was their vote and their commitment that led Shiv Sena to prominence. Over the hours that we spent chatting in the afternoon sun, Sumitai always wondered whether it was all worth it in the end. The party helped her daughter live, and the party let her die. She felt that poor people didn't have any real choice. The choices Sumitai tried to give her daughter came to nought. Migrants in the slums of Mumbai try to hold on to any help which will give them a foothold in the city, she concluded. No one really knows anything about religious nationalism, she said. People have faith in gods, and they have faith in people. So when politicians say, ‘Trust us, we will help you with jobs and food. In return you have to shout in a public place that you want to protect your God’, refusing that offer is a luxury that is only enjoyed by elite people who have enough money to lead ethical lives. For poor people like Sumitai, survival is ethical.

31Whenever I returned to Mumbai, Sumitai would greet me in our afternoon meeting spot. No husbands, no children, you and I are free women, she would laugh. Every year, she grew more frail and became breathless while telling me her stories. She stopped working, and she refused any long-term financial help. She would only let me buy her tea, snacks and goodies. As conversation food, she said. She could take help from the party; she gave something invaluable in return: her voice and her vote. She gave me only stories. Invaluable for the anthropologist, I thought. Over the years, she complained more and more about young slum women who didn’t acknowledge her as a ‘party ancestor’.

Fig. 4. Sumitai, the vigilante.

Fig. 4. Sumitai, the vigilante.

© Adrià Fruitós.

32One time when I went back to the slum, I sat on our bench, knowing that Sumitai would have heard about my arrival and turn up for the ceremonial ‘greet and eat’ tête-à-tête. She didn’t carry a mobile phone, so I relied on gossip about my return. She didn’t come. The teashop owner sent his delivery boy over with tea and biscuits. I said, ‘I am still waiting for Sumitai.’ The boy said: ‘She won’t come, she died.’ When she was very ill, she called for the teashop owner. She told him that if he ever saw me waiting for her, then he should give me her shiny locket. So I sat under our tree, holding a tea and a trinket, which still made glowing patterns on my wrist in the afternoon sun.

33And makes me end, where I begun…

*

Addendum

34The rise of Hindu nationalism in India has been sustained by a few pan-regional political parties, including the controversial, anti-minority Bharatiya Janata Party/BJP (Indian People’s Party) which currently holds power at the Centre. Other cultural and religious organisations and leaders have created their politico-religious careers on a venomous Hindu supremacist ideology, and the most noted among them are the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Association of Volunteers) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) which have an international following. Hindu nationalism has also fostered a number of smaller, nativist political groups which adhere to the wider Hindu nationalist agenda, but remain committed to serving the interests of Hindu communities within their own regions. Together, they are called the Sangh Parivar (the Hindu nationalist family).

35The Shiv Sena (Shivaji’s Army) is a regional political party based in Maharashtra, a state in western India, which has Mumbai as its global commercial capital. The party is currently in power in the federal state. The Shiv Sena has already attracted severe criticism from the media for initiating beef-bans during the celebration of Id, and the party has accused local Muslim communities of using the festival to slaughter the highly worshipped, sacred cow in order to desecrate Hinduism. The party however had humble beginnings. Named after Shivaji, a Hindu medieval king who battled against Mughal rule to create his independent fiefdom, the Shiv Sena launched its career in the 1960s as a cultural organization which represented the interests of Maharashtrians. Under the leadership of a witty and charismatic political cartoonist, Bal Thackeray, who eventually went on to become one of the most popular Hindu nationalist ideologues in the political history of India, the party gained power and presence by espousing strong anti-migrant sentiments.

36Thackeray’s popular speeches and cartoons held migrants from other parts of India responsible for unemployment among Maharashtrian youth, especially in Mumbai. He instigated the youth to reclaim their own region and economy, which prompted large numbers of Sena cadres and loyalists to attack shops, factories and other establishments, which didn’t dominantly employ Maharashtrians. Eventually, a large number of business houses and entrepreneurships in Mumbai acquiesced to the demands of the Shiv Sena and started to hire local youth to fill their emerging employment vacancies. In the 1970s, Thackeray’s political ambitions drove him towards Hindu nationalism, and he sought an alliance with the BJP. However, the Shiv Sena was overtly rejected by the Sangh Parivar for its rough and shoddy brand of politics, which did not fit in well with the grand nationalist ideologies honed by other Hindu majoritarian groups. Refusing to be demoralized, Thackeray changed his political practices to accommodate an aggressive brand of Hindu nationalism, which was especially directed against Muslims and Christians in the region. In the 1980s, after taking the lead in instigating a number of communal clashes between Hindus and Muslims, which led to the loss of lives, livelihoods and properties, the Shiv Sena finally made its way into the Hindu nationalist fold.

37The Shiv Sena drew its primary membership from the expansive slums of Mumbai, and a large section of its votary constituted of slum women. Thackeray gained the trust and respect of poor women, as he shifted and changed his agenda to address the needs and vulnerabilities of working women from urban peripheries. For example, while he paid lip service to Hindu nationalist rhetoric and glorified the role of women as householders and mothers, especially during collaborative campaigns with the BJP, he would address local women’s rallies differently. During political meets in Mumbai, he would urge slum women to carry knives and chilli powder to attack sexual predators. He also consistently supported slum women’s needs for collective political and cultural activities, especially in the absence of women’s trade unions in the slums, and this attracted the allegiance of poor women across the city. In 1985, the Shiv Sena created the Mahila Aghadi (Women’s Front): partly in response to the increasing demands of Sena women to have their own political platform, and partly in response to the growing successes of women’s wings created by well-established Hindu nationalist organisations.

38In December 1992, large mobs of Hindu nationalists broke down a controversial mosque in the northern temple town of Ayodhya, claiming that the site was a sacred ground as a birthplace of a mythological God, Ram. Muslims in Mumbai held low intensity protests against the unlawful demolition. The Shiv Sena retaliated with extreme violence. In December 1992-January 1993, Mumbai’s cosmopolitan reputation was shattered when the Sena successfully coordinated communal clashes in the city for two months. What shocked the secular women’s movement in India was the direct participation of women in the rioting, either as attackers (on Muslims) or as human shields (against police intervention during the attacks). This feminization of the riots brought the relatively marginalized Aghadi to the forefront of politics in Mumbai. Despite their fluctuating political successes, the Mahila Aghadi continues to be fairly popular among slum populations across Mumbai as they act as community-builders, vigilantes, political brokers, everyday service providers, and counsellors to the urban poor. These everyday activities garner support from poor women, and the latter often don’t understand or engage with the complex and shifting far-right, extremist political agenda of the wider political party. On several occasions, Thackeray said he was a great admirer of Hitler and that the Muslims of India should face the same fate as the Jews. On several occasions, the women in the slums of Mumbai asked the anthropologist ‘What is a Hitler, is it something to hit with?’

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1a. Mahila Aghadi meeting at the Shiv Sena party offices, 2000.
Crédits © Atreyee Sen.
URL http://terrain.revues.org/docannexe/image/16247/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 434k
Titre Fig. 1b.
Crédits © Atreyee Sen.
URL http://terrain.revues.org/docannexe/image/16247/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 462k
Titre Fig. 2a. Images of Bal Thackeray hanging from the walls in a Mumbai slum.
Crédits © Atreyee Sen.
URL http://terrain.revues.org/docannexe/image/16247/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 336k
Titre Fig. 2b.
Crédits © Atreyee Sen.
URL http://terrain.revues.org/docannexe/image/16247/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 466k
Titre Fig. 3. Mahila Aghadi meeting, Mumbai 1998.
Crédits © Atreyee Sen.
URL http://terrain.revues.org/docannexe/image/16247/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 532k
Titre Fig. 4. Sumitai, the vigilante.
Crédits © Adrià Fruitós.
URL http://terrain.revues.org/docannexe/image/16247/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,4M
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Référence électronique

Atreyee Sen, « Sumitai », Terrain [En ligne], Portraits, mis en ligne le 09 juin 2017, consulté le 17 août 2017. URL : http://terrain.revues.org/16247

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Auteur

Atreyee Sen

University of Copenhagen, Department of Anthropology

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