Pyar, paap aur politics (love, sin and politics) – University of Copenhagen

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Pyar, paap aur politics (love, sin and politics)

Inter-religious love affairs, slum citizenship and community surveillance in two radicalised Indian ghettoes.

Public lecture by Atreyee Sen, Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen.

This paper explores the role of both silent and violent community vigilantism over inter-religious love affairs in two radicalised Indian slums. Using a Hindu nationalist slum in Mumbai and a communally sensitive Muslim-dominated slum in Hyderabad as ethnographic landscapes, I show how both state and non-state local actors used secret surveillance, exclusionary party politics, public shaming rituals and physical punishment to rein in poor women’s sexual permissiveness.

Some women in deviant relationships displayed excessive loyalty to their community to compensate for their transgressions. Some others legitimised their radical position by branding honour policing as primitive, and unfit for an urban citizenry.

I argue that this battle between scrutiny, suppression and support of intimate relationships between Hindus and Muslims is born out of an everyday anxiety over the security of the poor, the sinful impact of western liberalism, and the paranoia of 'love jihad' in modernising cities in India (the latter referring to the seduction, marriage and forced conversion of naïve Hindu women by Muslim youth).

Thus this paper addresses a broader anthropology of urban conflict by illustrating how informal censors of women’s unethical behaviour can create an ethos of neo-urban moral protectionism, and sustain cultures of coercion and resistance within contemporary slum economies in the region. 

Neighbourhood policewomen punishing Hindu-Muslim lovers in a park in India.


Atreyee Sen is Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. She is an urban anthropologist with a regional focus on South Asia. Her research interests address questions of violence, gender and childhoods in the context of slums, prisons and other confined spaces in Indian cities. She is the author of Shiv Sena Women: Violence and Communalism in a Bombay Slum (2007) and the co-editor of Global Vigilantes: Perspectives on Violence and Justice (2008).