South Asia

Organized Panel Session

3 - Crowded Sounds: Sonic Signs and Migrant Politics in Mumbai

Saturday, July 7
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Rudraksha, Lower Ground Floor

In metropolitan Mumbai, politicians have increasingly courted a “regional” Bhojpuri migrant vote, mostly identified with young men from the North Indian states of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. By sponsoring Chhath Puja, a massive public Bihari religious festival, these politicians directly address what they call a Bhojpuri crowd – a group of humans whose massness overtakes their individual capacity for reason. In this paper, I argue that the Bhojpuri crowd is not a self-evident category; rather, addressing assemblies of people as Bhojpuri crowds makes the category itself salient. This address is achieved through the sedimentation and deployment of signs that have come to mean “Bhojpuri” through their use in stage shows and Bhojpuri cinema. Sounds in particular—the rhythm of the dholak drum and certain forms of electronic vocal distortion — designate the gatherings as regional, migrant rallies. The sounds of Bhojpuri itself considered a rustic, uneducated migrant language, become synonymous with crowd politics more generally where the democratic debate is understood to be subsumed into the stirring of mass affect and patronage politics. Bhojpuri sounds thus lay the semiotic groundwork for contestations of migration in urban India, defining spaces, times, people, and forms of mass politics as “regional.” On another scale, these sonic politics of spatial belonging are drawn into a national narrative of unbroken Hindu homogeneity with the rise of the BJP. This paper investigates the shifting uses of “regional” sonic signifiers in the embodied mass politics of the crowd on the beach, in Mumbai, and across India.

Kathryn C. Hardy

Ashoka University, India

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