Civilised India is shocked. It should be — its insulation shaken and conscience stirred. The appalling acts of senseless rage and brutal violence leading to the loss of the life of a dentist in Delhi and a student in Bengaluru should ring alarm bells. In the case of the dentist, young people, including juveniles, indulged in the crime. In the Bengaluru incident, a young man was stabbed to death and two others severely injured over a trivial argument about a dog barking during the telecast of a cliffhanger cricket match. In both the cases, community members remained silent spectators.
Two aspects therefore need to be discussed here: citizen rage and violence, and citizen apathy. Both the incidents reveal social faultlines and individual personality distortions caused by stressful urban living and toxic social discourse. That people without any history of crime and violence fly off the handle and perpetrate brutal violence is a cause of worry. They cannot be dismissed as exceptions. They appear to be symptomatic of a larger and deeper malaise. Sociologists have been pointing to the general rise in violence in society. The public discourse, especially on social media, has made verbal violence socially acceptable. It will not take long for the articulation of thirst for revenge to degenerate into actual physical violence — as was seen in several instances of violence that rocked the nation.
With the alarming rise in citizen violence, there has been a distressing increase in public apathy too. Citizen violence and apathy share common roots and reasons: the segregation of people on social, economic and cultural lines and the falling apart of ties in pluralistic societies. It is time the high-decibel and high-voltage violence in public life and discourse is checked. The issue of stress in urban lives that manifests itself in road rage and other momentary lapses of reason should be addressed. Lastly, conflicts that arise out of social, cultural, religious differences and class inequality should be pre-empted by promoting tolerance, and social bonding.