The paper documents how the national government co-opted Resident Welfare Associations in the implementation of COVID-19 rules and examines their role as an extension of the state within a longer history of middle-class power in India’s cities.
Lipika Kamra, School of Politics and International Relations, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK; Associate Professor, Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities, O. P. Jindal Global University, Sonipat, Haryana, India.
Philippa Williams, School of Geography, Queen Mary University of London, London, UK.
Pushpendra Johar, Independent Researcher, India.
Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, this paper documents how ordinary digital technologies, such as WhatsApp, were (re)appropriated for communication and pandemic coordination at a time when face-to-face meetings were impossible. However, there was also an emergent ‘dark’ side to its use. In the context of India’s democratic backsliding, middle-class Resident Welfare Associations (RWAs) deployed everyday technologies to (re)configure exclusionary digital socio-spatial boundaries through practices of ‘grassroots authoritarianism’.
The paper documents how the national government co-opted RWAs in the implementation of COVID-19 rules and examines their role as an extension of the state within a longer history of middle-class power in India’s cities. We evidence how the ‘WhatsApp panopticon’ was mobilized as a tool of everyday community care and surveillance to shape morality regimes and influence the compliance of residents with national and locally enforced rules.
We argue that digital socio-spatial practices of securitization, fear and compliance represent forms of ‘grassroots authoritarianism’ that echo and ensconce state-led ideological change in India. Building on ‘everyday authoritarianism’ we show how digital technologies and middle-class organizations are mediating India’s authoritarian shift from below.
Published in: Territory, Politics, Governance
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