In the eighties of the last century the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru, headed by scientist Dr Raja Ramanna and psychologist Dr Ravi Kapur as Chairman and Director respectively, convened an unpublicised workshop on the increasing trend of violence in society, probably at the behest of the home ministry. The assembly consisted of psychologists, sociologists, educationists and administrative, police and intelligence executives. This author, then a regular visiting professor of literature to the institute, was a participant too.
As expected, different theories of violence were applied to the Indian situation and conclusions recorded. There is no need for referring to them in the immediate context of the festival of lynching indulged in by some of our native mobs. However, one observation by a top police executive seems to me to have become more relevant today. He referred to a massacre of a devout lot in Delhi preparing for Dussehra in a hall situated amidst a labyrinth of lanes. Suddenly an auto-rickshaw halted at its entrance and its solitary passenger sprayed the gathering with bullets from an automatic gun, killing many and maiming many more.
Captured later, it was found that the killer had no knowledge of the terrorist outfit that hired him. He was a professional shooter. His fascination with his machine and the machine’s (not his!) magical capacity at hitting living targets was irresistible. In other words, the machine had paralysed his minimum humanity, not to speak of conscience, if he had any.It is time to wonder how much more vicious must have been the grip of the gadgets on the average man today, even in rural India. Like Caliban in Shakespeare’s Tempest (the name was designed to remind us of ‘cannibal’) whose only benefit from learning the language was to use it for cursing his teacher, man had, to a considerable extent, changed his knowledge of technology into a curse—but a curse on himself.
Along with the role played by alcohol and drugs, this addiction to the gadgets had played havoc with our humanity in general. Add to this the violence in the atmosphere, violence camouflaged in hundred ways on social media, violence in films and even country operas stooping to raw titillation, and the atmosphere is ripe for violence for the sake of violence.
It had been one of our most natural traits to talk affectionately to a child in the street, even if unknown to us. But today such a spontaneous gesture of some passers-by will activate the demon lurking inside someone and the very next moment the passers-by will be surrounded by a mob—consisting of men and even women, quite normal fathers and mothers and friends in their society who must be themselves criticising cases of injustice a while ago, all turning demoniac and consciously murdering the strangers, dismissing the slightest obligation to sense and patience.
This is a strange phenomenon and most strange at a time when we know so much about our rights, continuously agitate to assert them and when there are broadways before us to punish the guilty. It is not a road rage when one loses one’s temper or a sex craze when one acts impulsively. It is not as if someone had insulted or harmed me and I was taking revenge. It is simply an opportunity for reassuring myself that I had the power to destroy human lives.
It is a terrible explosion of the killer’s ego. You may try to explain it with Freud’s theory of the individual’s unconscious being unlocked in a crowd or later theories of mob behaviour when the individual is obliged to act according to the pack mentality inherited from animals. There is truth in them and we deserve this whipping reminder from the psychologist Dr Wendy James: “One dog may bark at you, but it is more likely that a pack will attack you. We are not exempt from that behaviour because we are human and not canine. As evidenced by dogs operating in a pack, human society is based on group dynamics. As humans we have instinctual responses that are exacerbated by group influences. What we might not do as individuals we may do as part of a group. People may lose control of their usual inhibitions as their mentality becomes that of a group.”
Maybe, but the recent series of lynching had some exclusive factors behind them. Talk to the sensible people in the villages, bazaars and towns. They will tell you with the force of their conviction—the outcome of their experience which, translated into a precise statement, should read like this:
Every space in life is dominated by politics. And politics today means hatred, conspiracy, casteism and corruption. These recent brutalities by a chaotically collected mass is indirectly nurtured by the politicos, the multiple groups in each party bribing and boosting up the common men and breeding in them unreal ambitions to become something undefined, probably powerful like the leader in some way! Sure of manipulative protection, this craving satisfies itself in a perverse way.
Severe punishment for such criminals as recommended by many is fine, but the killer in these circumstances does not know himself; he is the mob. He has for his defence as tender an ideal as the protection of the child!Will the political parties—their units spread over localities—mend their policy of pampering the vanity of the simple minded masses? If not, they too will be swallowed up by their Karma, giving way to new groups equally dubious. The process will go on till the individual had risen higher in God’s own time.
According to a profound mystic vision, mankind at present is going through an evolutionary crisis and is awaiting a transformation by the intervention of a power of consciousness far greater than the ego. Is it because the individual ego is losing its relevance that there is this volcanic eruption of collective ego? Some hope for a future.