In this current climate, voicing issues has become easy, and the medium for it is conveniently served within the palm of our hand (literally!).
We should acknowledge the fact that people with power do not always get away with wrong-doings these days. But, unfortunately, they think they can and to be fair, many do.
The hashtag intended to allow people to share their personal stories of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace, but it only garnered the limelight in October 2017, when numerous reports of powerful men accused of sexual misconduct, began to flood the media. One of the most popular of these men was Harvey Weinstein, a powerful Hollywood producer, who was accused of sexually harassing thirteen women and even raping three over a long period.
Since then, we have seen a staggering number of women and in some cases, men, who have come forward with their experiences against some very powerful figures.
India, too, had its fair share of influential people being accused of such deeds and I wasn’t surprised when a similar report came out of my home town of Leh, Ladakh, very recently.
Tsewang Thinles, the former president and a self-proclaimed reformer of Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA), was recently accused by a 17-year-old of sexual assault.
He has been absconding since he was booked under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO). All this time he held probably the most powerful seat in the social structure—a fact that is not only shameful but hypocritical. He, along with his association, is the front-runner in crusading against people with inter-religion involvement, which is something ‘ethically’ and openly contested with the consent of the society.
My point here is not to bluntly target Mr Thinles, but rather construct a comprehensive perception of the physiological impact on a person with an extreme set of power, especially in a small knit community like ours and the various factors that contribute in developing a certain mindset, and actions that turn out be to socially unacceptable. I want to understand what makes people like him act like this? And how much of it is a direct reflection on the power that he holds? And, are we as a society somewhat responsible for it?
According to Joe Magee, power researcher and management professor at New York University, “Power isn’t always corrupting; but rather freeing.”
“What power does is that it liberates the true self to emerge. More of us walk around with kinds of social norms; we work in groups that exert all pressures on us to conform. Once you get into a position of power, then you can be whoever you are”, he says.
So, how would you define ‘freeing’ here? Is it the action of a powerful man who purely exhibits his true self, instead of what he portrays to be, in this case, the president of the most reputed and powerful association in Ladakh that advocates strong religious sentiments, rather than a sexual predator? The power he acquired being affiliated with an organisation like LBA came with a tremendous amount of self-assurance and ego that has played well in the context of how much influence LBA has in the lives of the people here. It’s an open secret what the members of the organisation do in their “spare time”, it is nothing short of exceeding a delusional sense of power that has been used to exploit simple-minded people.
There haven’t been many instances where one could practically point out the power paradox. This is an understanding of human psychology in terms of how power could directly influence the personality of a person. There is an understanding based on what the Italian philosopher, Niccolò Machiavelli, stated in regards to the power exercised by a leader, that it should be traced around the fear of people, rather than their love.
The power paradox sees a change in a personality once he or she attains power; if they have been honest, outgoing, and humble, they could take a drastic turn when in power.
So, how is the power reflected when it comes to people like Mr Thinles in Ladakh? Do they feed off the fear of the people or genuine love given by them? And, has he honestly proven himself to be a leader in its true sense?
These are the questions that should have been asked a lot earlier, and here we are, one sexual assault later, and who knows how many more.
Power is a two-way channel, the people on the ground accord it, and once the power is misused, there is always going to be backlashes one way or the other. So yes, we do have a hand in what people in control do with that power. We need to raise the stakes on understanding what power means, whether we as a collective command power within us and decide on how and where we should accord and exercise it.