Everyday Violence and Female Vigilantism in the Bombay Slums

Outlaw Vigilantes
By Atreyee Sen

This paper focuses on the activities of female vigilantes attached to the Hindu nationalist movement of the Shiv Sena. The Mahila Aghadi (Women’s Front) was founded and is still led by marginalized women from Bombay’s slums. It comes as a challenge to conventional assumptions about women’s participation in social movements as it is neither a full-fledged feminist movement nor a mere adjuvant to a male-dominated party. Hindu nationalism and its violent opposition to Muslim communities can only be seen as a partial explanation for the popularity and legitimacy of the Aghadi. Equally important is the sense of protection as well as the symbolic and material retributions that the group provides workingwomen with, as they try to gain autonomy in their public and private lives. In this context, vigilantism takes the shape of a raw justice directed against the Muslim Other but also against predatory men. These forms of instant justice offer women a space of relative empowerment within an otherwise intolerant and reactionary movement.

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