ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Lynch Nation: Mobile Witnessing and Vigilante Publics


Hariharan Veena - Jawaharlal Nehru University, Cinema Studies, New Delhi, India


49 – Public Knowledge: Audiences in South Asian Media and Screen Studies


 In recent years, we have witnessed several incidents of violence in the name of the ‘sacred cow’ by self-appointed, cow-vigilantes from mostly upper-caste Hindu communities against minorities. Shakuntala Banaji attributes this mobilization of a ‘muscular Hindu nationalism’ against minorities to the rise of ‘vigilante publics’ – ethnocultural groups indulging in acts of extreme verbal and physical violence. Videos and images of cow-related hate crimes are now routinely filmed by witnesses and perpetrators and live streamed on digital platforms. Anyone with a smartphone recording device and internet access can document, produce and circulate eye-witness footage, that in turn has the potential to flare up on connected networks and become viral contagions. Anna Reading terms this an act of ‘mobile witnessing’ – ‘witnessing an event on mobile phone screens or witnessing an event and recording it on mobile phone screens’. These ‘mobile-mentaries’ – films shot on cell-phones/ mobiles with all the limitations of size, duration, and resolution, have become the primary means by which we witness and indeed consume violence. In this paper, I examine the nature of vigilante publics and the central role of digital ecologies – smartphone recording devices and applications such as WhatsApp in supporting and propagating the violence.