It does not really matter whether a mob killed a Muslim cattle trader without reason, that a group of men raped a tribal girl to gain more power over her community, or a young Hindu boy was killed for a family’s honour. It does not really matter whether it was Kathua, Unnao or Assam. This is not to take anything away from the grieving families or the worried communities. But we, the public as a whole, were neither honestly grieving nor worried. I say this because after every murder or rape, we are outraged for a while. We go ballistic on social media. But after a few days, a new story emerges; a new victim is either dead or raped. The last incidence is confined to the old pages of our memory.
But there is more to this pattern. Initially, we were in denial that something of this nature could take place in our society. Then we denied that we played a part in the shift that allowed the incident to happen. Subsequently, there is a little anger and disbelief as the truth sinks in. Then we look at ways to explain the situation. We externalise it. Externalisation is easy; the guilt is less. By the fourth and fifth stages, things get cancerous.
It doesn’t take much to be desensitised to our surroundings. People just need to get used to it as a fact of life. Take poverty for instance. At times, we may have felt sad about street children begging for money, selling us trinkets at a red light or pleading for momos near our favourite roadside joint. But eventually we all get used to it, treat it to be an inevitable part of the landscape, and thus it becomes normal. As it becomes routine, it ceases to exist as an issue. The paradigm shifts and we live in the new normal, oblivious or indifferent to the marginalisation in our same surroundings. Similarly, there is another paradigm shift going on right now under our noses where we are steadily getting used to the polarisation around us.
The thing about periodic untimely death is that it changes the societal construct in unfathomable ways. Untimely death is a reminder that many things are not under our control. In this case, there is always a mob which was responsible. But my mob is at no fault. My mob was also triggered. Human nature needs an explanation for closure. Once we have externalised it, we perceive the situation as less uncertain. We don’t support murder, but there was little we could do except venting our anger online.
And sitting in our rooms or offices and in our heated discussions with our friends, we rationalise. We needed an explanation, and their mob triggered our mob was the convenient explanation. Politicians, media, religion, everyone is to be blamed. We refuse to see our own role in this pattern.
But with every subsequent rioting and killing, we will gradually enter the fourth and fifth stage. Denial turns to acceptance and then indifference to murder or rape just like we are indifferent to street children we see every day. Mob violence, rape and lynching will become a way of life, an integral part of our landscape. As long as it does not reach the confines of our gated colonies, it is ok to externalise it because the mob cannot touch us. But the mob is much closer than you can imagine.
If in recent times, you have become indifferent to street children, have condoned someone’s death, shrugged, have said or thought along the lines of, “they started the fire, ours was just a counter-reaction”, “they/he deserved it”, “but everyone was silent when they killed our people”, “why was this rape reported and why was this not”, you should be scared, really scared of the mob.
And right now you just need to get up and look straight into the mirror. Do you see something in a corner? You see nothing? Look hard. Ah! There we go. Are you surprised? Are you wondering what that grotesque looking creature is in that corner? Who is that baby Frankenstein?
If you look hard and deep enough, you will identify it right. It was a part of the mob. It was the mob that you needed for a closure to the shifting paradigm. Don’t let it overpower you and turn you into a full-grown monster. It will burn you down along with the rest of us.
By the way, these five stages are very similar to the stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. In this case, we are in the final and unfortunate state of acceptance.