Only Strong Actions Can Cure Violence in Societyby Opinion Express July 31, 2018 0 comments
If people perceive that violence in society has a state sanction, only strong antidote, not mere words of denial, can remove the fear.
A new mother in the family is particular about sending her three-year-old daughter to pre-school, stuffing her up with layered clothing. The frocks are not safe at school. Or innocent enough for predators. Infant rapes in the school premises have been reported with all too much frequency to fuel her anxieties. Then there’s the shadow of child-lifters prowling around everywhere.
Until sometime ago, we would look forward to Eid to demand home-cooked, love-laden and very motherly kebabs of our colleagues coming back from their towns by Shatabdis. The killing of Junaid, who was stabbed to death on a train by cow vigilantes claiming he was carrying beef in his tiffin carrier and not normal meat which he insisted, changed everything. They do not want to draw attention to themselves with their casseroles while travelling and risk their lives as distrustful vigilantes could be lurking anywhere. But they do not want to upset us either. So the tradition continues with just a box of home-made sweets, very neutral and yes, very sweet.
It’s 9.30 pm and a woman executive is toggling with the idea of dialling a taxi aggregator or trading waiting hours for the safety of an office drop. There was a time when she wouldn’t have stopped to think about swiping that app but what if she were waylaid on that deserted approach road that had to be negotiated before she entered the safety of her gated community?
A youth in Bihar’s Muzaffarnagar district is lynched for stealing a cellphone, a crime for which he had been booked earlier by cops. This time locals decided to teach him a lesson without waiting for the police or handing the thief over to them.
Our society is living in a fear psychosis, becoming fragile, frazzled and confused. And it is kicking out with the only “off with your head” pandemic of a solution in protecting itself. Violence is then seen as an affirmative action, one that is a legitimate solution to an imagined problem that a societal architecture is not designed for. It is ironic that this negative emotion happens to have us in its grip at a time when we believe that we are more empowered, knowledgeable and connected to each other. Technological evolution, we have reckoned, has already made us supra human beings. Or is it that the bubble of our acquired abilities is feeding our egoism over enlightenment and breeding a new class system? It would be easy to narrow down this induced fear to the political dynamics of the time, no matter what the colour of ideology, but there is a far deeper systemic malaise at play here. One that goes beyond just political protectionism and posturing. Remember, politics grows on the bedrock of societal maladies.
So who are fear mongers that have spawned angry lynch mobs and muscular vigilantes? You cannot pinpoint anyone in the crowd. Rumour is a faceless monster that strikes almost gutturally and insidiously to establish its standout value. Perhaps, we weren’t aware of the impact that digital classlessness would have in the real world. With a platform large enough to accommodate every shade of opinion, intelligent and stupid, no doubt there has been an attempted equilibrium of individual expressions. But like in society, power play came with the numbers of likes, shares, forwards, endorsements and followers. It was not just enough to be an individual with an identity, hunting for your space and gathering opinions to yourself. You had to be a chieftain of a digital tribe with a sameness of subscribed ideas. The heftier the beehive mentality, the easier it was to declare a perceived mass mindset and opinion that sadly marketers and brand players relied upon to create value and capital — social, economical, political and importantly, credible.
That has been our undoing and cost us logic, reason, understanding and compassion. Memes, that we so love to begin our day with, are far more dangerous than cruise missiles. For, according to evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, a meme is an idea, behaviour or reaction to a stimulus that spreads from person to person within a culture of mimicry, much like a self-replicating gene that can mutate horrendously. In all this newness of a world driven by imposed intelligence, we forget that human civilisation is older than the digital one and it is perhaps the latter that needs to ride out its own stages of evolution. We ought to make that distinction, fast and furiously. And we do not need to subject ourselves to its medievalism and let it play out with renewed vigour in civil society structures. Yet sadly, that replication is exactly what has happened.
Fear of the “otherness” has been a unifying tool like no other. The more you believe it, the more likely you are to feel insecure singly and inclined to be drawn to a mindset that manifests itself through a united and aggressive counter response and safety of numbers. As part of a venting mob, a human’s bestial instincts are primed and inflamed, the psychological equivalent to a pack of wolves. Research has proved this insane predatory instinct. And the best part is that there is not one single person or cause that you can attribute the agency to. A judicial inquiry cannot pinpoint a perpetrator, simply because everyone can pass the buck to the next man standing, much like the forwards rolling on social media, and absolve himself or herself of social responsibility. This anonymity sadly guarantees their infallibility. If the victim is in the clear, then it is the failure of the law and order machinery. If the victim is dead, then it is easily the politicians who have fomented polarities with their gangs, never mind that they cannot galvanise a mob of hundreds at an instant unless the hit-back conditions are latent in a community. Anybody can be a scapegoat.
Political establishments across the world have, therefore, used baser emotions to foist a mob that will dispense and justify violence as an elaborate and pointed system of a corrective, which in turn will create a series of crises to divert eyeballs from existing ones. So, if it is racism in the West, in the Indian context these base emotions are being used to consolidate majoritarian mindsets whether relating to gender, class or faith; the “other” being defined as a threat to be kept under check and reminded of its subservience. For the minority, coping with fear has its own pocket riots or simple transmission of ideas that coalesce into vicious, radical “revenge” hits. Societally, violence of the gruesome kind is the expression of a refusal to accommodate assertive and empowered groups be it women or so-called lower castes. They are easily consigned to being collateral damage in the tussle for supremacy of the established order.
The problem with our modern lynch mob phenomenon is that it is not just seen as popular exasperation or rebellion against a failed state but as an extra-judicial adjunct of the establishment. One needs to only look back at the administrative responses that have been delayed at best, reactive on a medium scale and silence at worse. Despite attempts to give teeth to several laws and bringing in new ones, crimes against women, children and lower castes are going up undeterred. Societal violence cannot at any scale be seen as having state sanction and if such a perception is gaining ground, mere denials and words won’t do. Only strong counter-measures can calm fears. For the lies are dangerously on the precipice of becoming truths.
Writer: Rinku Ghosh
Courtesy: The Pioneer