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Beware! The Media Might Be Making You Biased Through ‘Herd Mentality’

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Sushant Singh Rajput’s case is all over the media. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, so-called TV Media Channels, everywhere you go, you are bound to see something related to the case. I intentionally used the word ‘something’ instead of ‘news’ because I haven’t witnessed the news on TV for a long time. But don’t worry today I am not going to offer a new ground-breaking, TRP magnet revelation. Neither I am going to call someone a witch or anything like that just to gain views.

I want to discuss something else.

Something which I think needs to be discussed and now seems to be the time for it. Something which was the reason why this case was taken seriously in the first place. Something, because of which now this case is losing its path from demanding justice for the deceased talented actor to demanding justice for people who have no relation to the case. And now the politicians are using this thing to gain some support after losing the trust of people because of their failures.

And that thing is Mass Mentality. I want to discuss it because although mass mentality has certain positive aspects to it, if not controlled or used for the overall good, the results can be catastrophic for the society and for the individuals.

Indians have always been known for their unity/Representational image.

Indians are known across the globe for their unity. When the world sees at us, they don’t just see one geographical territory with the potential of becoming a global superpower, surrounded by hostile neighbours. But they see as a group of numerous cultures, beautiful colours, blended religions, overwhelming languages, contrasting habits, stretching diversity, all packed in 3,287,263 square kilometres of land and water, possessing the potential of becoming a global superpower and surrounded by hostile neighbours, with status quo changing every now and then.

Whenever we get a chance, we display our unity. When Team India plays a cricket match, the whole of India plays along with it. When in some terror attack Indian soldiers get martyred, the whole of India stands together with the families of the martyred soldiers. This unity seems so beautiful because it is beautiful. But nowadays this beautiful unity is being transformed into a disastrous, very careless mass mentality.

Mass mentality is when people follow the ideas held by some without giving any thought about it and the number of yes-men keeps on adding to that idea to the point when it almost becomes the only side of the story. And the striking feature of mass mentality is that as less as 5% of the population can influence the other 95%. The practical use of this term is on an exponential rise in today’s times, social media being one of the most powerful catalysts to it.

Ideas, thoughts, opinions, suggestions all flow like fire with blazing fast speed and they subsume facts in such a way that there’s hardly any distinction left which is also seen to a very small percentage of the audience who actually want to know about anything.

Origin Of Mass Mentality

Although social media has given a boost to it, the mass mentality is actually not conceived by it.

Mass mentality or Herd Mentality has its origins in our evolution. Evolution, in very simple words, is your mind acting for your survival. Your mind wants you to survive and so it moves away from potential threats and does everything to ensure your survival. This is evolution. So, in the evolutionary past, our ancestors were always surrounded by constant threats. Threats from wild animals, the threat of dying from hunger and thirst, the threat of dying from the extreme climates if a proper shelter is not found. To ensure their survival they started making groups and started doing things in chorus. This helped them a lot and ensured their survival from all the constant threats. This is how and why mass mentality became a reality of our lives.

Today, though there isn’t any threat from wild animals or from extreme climates as we are living in concrete jungles today threats such as social embarrassment, fear of missing out, fear of not being accepted in the larger group and all sorts of social fears.

We fear not being accepted in a group or being criticized or being socially embarrassed, so we generally suppress our thoughts and adopt to the general view of the mass.

Representational image.

Positive Aspects Of Mass Mentality

While the definition might present a negative image of the phenomenon, the mass mentality has certainly some positive aspects to it. This phenomenon can be used to achieve positive results such as alleviating fears or gaining support for a noble cause.

A study was conducted on some children. Few children who were afraid of dogs were made to watch a child, of their age group, playing with a dog for 20 minutes or so. This study was conducted for four days and the result was such that 67% of the children who were earlier afraid of dogs were now comfortable with dogs.

In another study, a researcher used the principle of herd mentality to prevent environmental theft from a park situated in Arizona. There was a board in the park on which was written that almost 14 tonnes of petrified wood were being stolen from the park, mostly small pieces at a time. The researcher removed the board and the theft came down by almost 33%. It was concluded that people visiting the park took the board as permission to take wood from the park and many people were already doing and taking small pieces didn’t seem as stealing either.

Another example is how people got together and their united voice-enabled CBI to take over the case of Sushant Singh Rajput. This is an example where mass mentality actually helped to achieve something good.

The Fragility of Mass Mentality

While the positive aspects of mass mentality are so noble and compelling that it seems almost like a panacea. But the reality is worrying.

Mass mentality is becoming an alarming issue. It is stealing from people their intellectual thinking capacity. It is being used as a tool by some people for their own selfish purposes. Take the example of Sushant Singh Rajput’s case only. This case displayed the positive aspect of mass mentality and also the negative side of it. The positive side as I mentioned was CBI taking over the case. The negative side is of course convicting someone without any proofs. Completely destroying someone’s image without any proofs, just blindly following the herd. It is like waves.

I remember a few days back, when the whole #BoidLockerRoom incident stirred up, simultaneously, a girl put up a post on social media narrating how she was molested 2-3 years back by a boy, lets for the sake of privacy call that boy “Y’. Following that post, Y died by suicide, which was very unfortunate because nobody got to know his truth. But people started calling out that girl for putting so much pressure on Y that he committed suicide. The irony is that people were criticizing the trend of social media trial by literally blaming the girl for Y’s suicide despite not knowing the truth. This was the wave when social media trial was criticized, although superficially.

Then another wave started when news Sushant dying by suicide broke out. People expressed their grief. They started putting up posts on social media about mental health issues, as it was in the news that the deceased actor was in depression. People were willing to listen to other people’s story. This was the wave when mental health was given utmost importance.

Then came another wave which subsumed both the waves and obliterated their signs of existence. People started calling out big production houses, actors and other people who the people thought were the reason why Sushant went into depression. They started abusing those industry people and their families on their social media handles. Mind you, this all too was without any proof and just maybe 1-2 days after people became self-proclaimed therapists who gave utmost importance to mental health. This was the wave when mental health was crushed under feet.

And now another wave has started which has diverted all the social media posts demanding justice for Sushant Singh Rajput to demanding justice for an actress who has absolutely no connections with neither the actor nor with the case.

It is a prime example of the herd mentality. Just a few hours ago, mental health became an issue to talk about and just a few hours later, mental health was torn into pieces. A few days ago, people got together for a good cause and a few days later the same people forgot why they came together in the first place.

I mentioned this case only because most of you reading this article might be among those waves too. And I have been observing people’s behaviour since the #BoisLockerRoom case so I thought this example could really help in understanding the fragility of mass mentality as it clearly displays the waves and shows just how fragile this mass mentality is. It is literally a chain of balls attached to a single ball. You move that single ball left and all the balls in the chain move left. You move the single ball right and all the balls in the chain move right.

As I mentioned earlier that as small as 5% of the population can influence 95% of the population. This makes the principle a very powerful tool.

People often rely on the belief that popular is good.

Companies also use this principle to attract customers. How often do you see phrases such as ‘India’s most selling smartphone’ or ‘Fastest selling smartphone’? Because companies understand that more than a compelling feature, a statement that states that masses are purchasing a certain product would be able to persuade people to purchase that product.

How often do you read reviews about products on e-commerce sites before purchasing any product? Almost every time. We spend more time reading reviews than actually reading the ingredients of the product and reading about those ingredients. Why? Because popular is good.

Sometimes, the popular might actually be good. But not always. Sometimes, following the herd can actually do good. But not always. What if the herd you are following is following a wrong belief, a wrong opinion, a lie? What if that 5% are lying to 95% for their own benefit? Wouldn’t it be foolishness to follow someone who is going to jump from the mountain with a parachute, while you would just jump to death because you never thought why you’re following the herd in the first place? Would it be wise to lose your own originality just because you want to fit in a group which is not willing to accept you in your original form? So, what can we do?

We must not fall prey to the mass mentality. I am using the word ‘prey’ despite a few positive aspects of it because today mass mentality is majorly a negative phenomenon. We should not try to fit in a group which asks us to shred our originality, which does not respect our thoughts. That group is simply not meant for you. We should always try to reflect our true selves to the world. Maybe the group which you want to be a part not accept you.

But eventually, you will find a group which would not ask you to give up on your original thoughts. That group will not try to impose any thoughts on you. And the best part, you don’t have to even try to be part of that group. Just be original, stay away from the herd, be a leader of your own thoughts and that group will be attracted to you.

There’s a caveat too. We should also not be different just for the sake of being different. If you truly believe something is right or wrong and your belief is based on your own research not someone’s else’s belief then you should stick to your belief while leaving a little room for discussion. If your belief requires you to be on the majority, be on the majority. If your belief requires you to be on the minority, be on the minority. Just don’t base your beliefs on someone else’s. Do your own research and be original.

Featured image credits: 123RF
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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