Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Never Justify Violence

Sikkim prides itself over being a peaceful state and often highlights its Buddhist ethos of nonviolence. But is it really a nonviolent society? Recent incidents, in fact a series of incidents since the run up to the elections, suggest that senseless violence, especially when emboldened by a mob-size gathering, is coming disturbingly easily for crowds in Sikkim. The cold brazenness with which some of the pre-poll violence was launched, and which claimed two lives, because it was not condemned widely enough by the lay people and their civil society, continues to pop up every time a disaffected group finds some numbers. The most disturbing display of this madness was visited on Sikkim on 16 July when a marauding mob went on an anarchic frenzy on the streets of Gangtok. On Tuesday, this mentality sparked again in the aggression with which a group of employees [with complaints against the government] decided to vent their anger on journalists who had come to cover their protest. A similar attack on the media by the protesting students [in the college standoff] and their support groups went largely unreported even though it was more vicious and violent than the incident at the Power Department on 12 August. This is not about attacks on media, that is a risk we run and will tackle with our own devices as and when they surface. What should have the Sikkimese society at large more worried is the violent streak that is highlighting its public expressions.
Individual violence is an easily identified crime and easier to prosecute. What Sikkim is seeing of late is a spike in aggressive posturing which is always only a step away from violent aggression. Take the college fiasco for instance – the students really had no need to hold up traffic at the college gate on day-One of their protest, but they did; the police had no need to lathicharge them, but they did that as well and then there was no need for the “support groups” to continue to heckling the police and attacking media-persons when the students were already in negotiations with the administration, but they did, and look how that ended. That one episode was a textbook enactment of how mob violence happens, and how it spreads. Mob violence, including looting, typically ignites without much planning. They start as a collection of earnest believers, adherents and supporters, as inspired by the ideology [or need] which brought them to the streets as the lure of defying authority. Typically, mobs invariably have a small percentage of violently inclined to the level of criminality characters who play an important role in instigating unbridled lawlessness and setting a more vicious tone. Violence typically perpetuates and even gets copied elsewhere when the media and public at large explain away the behavior as “anger” and “disenchantment” by “disaffected youth” or “wronged sections”. Such messages, sometimes appropriated by the perpetrators themselves through the convenience of press releases in Sikkim, carry with them an entitlement that legitimizes lawlessness. Violence is wrong. Period. Keep justifying it and one will soon reap the proverbial whirlwind. Violence is a criminal expression. See it as such and demand that it is tackled as such, and may be civilized protests and negotiations will become possible. Sympathetic portrayals of criminal activity propagate free-for-alls. When institutions fail to repudiate violence, it not only lasts longer but also pops up more often.
How to curb this trend? The community has to reject all forms of violence as a shame to the community and repulsive behavior that embarrasses them. This rejection should occur loudly in places of worship, in schools and among neighbors and the police and public officials allowed to expose and take legal action against those who break the peace. While on this aspect, the people should also follow police action on breakdowns of law and order situations and demand better case preparations. No one wants innocents to be punished for mob violence, but it is worrying to notice that thus far no one has ever been convicted for rioting or mob violence in Sikkim even though such incidents have occurred. What could also work in puncturing mob violence tendencies is to strip it of anonymity. Prospective troublemakers may pause in future then.

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