It is remarkable how easily people in real life correspond to stereotypes. Last Friday, as the news of the senseless murder of a young dentist in Delhi’s Vikaspuri by a lumpen mob agitated social media, a friend with strongly ‘liberal’ and ‘syncretic’ inclinations posted a tweet: “#DrPankajlynched really, are we reduced to debating such nonsense and giving communal twist to everything.”
As question if indeed it was a question rather than an assertion-the tweet seemed innocuous. There are criminals, ruffians and neighbourhood toughs from almost all communities. If every incident, however unfortunate, comes to be reduced to a community-wise dissection of both the victims and the perpetrators, life would become a madhouse.
In India, the public space does indeed become completely unmanageable thanks to the media preference for selective indignation. Most democracies have disabused themselves of the notion that there is something called a ‘balanced’ media that looks at any event from multiple angles and arrives at a middle-of-the-road conclusion. Such tentativeness may not necessarily suit those blessed with certitudes, but it does give most uninvolved individuals and groups the space to assess events in the light of their experiences. The problem really begins when people’s own experiences don’t correspond with a cultivated sense of moderation.
Take the case of the senseless waste of a young dentist’s life in Delhi over the Holi break. For a lot of citizens, the incident was a tragedy waiting to happen. They would blame the lynching that followed an inconsequential tiff to be much more than road rage the bad behaviour that often accompanies traffic accidents. For them, this is the sort of organised loutishness ‘dadagiri’ that comes from a combination of muscle power, criminality and a sense of political entitlement. It is not necessarily specific to the more deprived areas of Delhi. Most urban centres have experienced it in some way or another. And, inevitably, the street-smart gangs of youth that make it their business to be obnoxious are categorised according to community or, occasionally, by the name of the gang leader. What is also well known is that these gangs enjoy the patronage of political leaders with an eye on bloc votes.
Since most people have, either directly or anecdotally, experienced these varieties of urban roughness, they are disinclined to believe the media or police versions of the fatal assault on the doctor as simple road rage. From all accounts, the attack was a very determined assault on a man with whom one of the ‘dadas’ of the locality had a sharp exchange shortly before. The attackers probably felt emboldened on account of their political connections that give the otherwise disempowered a sense of entitlement. In Vikaspuri the perpetrators may have been entirely Muslim or their composition would have been more mixed.
The composition of the attackers assumes importance not on account of their denominational character they were hardly carrying out a religious act by beating to death a man engaged in the innocuous act of playing cricket with his kid. The controversy over whether the attackers were Muslims or even illegal Bangladeshi migrants has acquired importance on account of the fact that the political and media response has been tempered by expediency. If the response of the well-meaning liberals hadn’t been one of intense squeamishness and if media stalwarts hadn’t appeared to exercise self-censorship, the act would not have acquired an additional sectarian dimension.
As I mentioned earlier, reports carry conviction when it corresponds to the lived experiences of people. All over Delhi, for example, there are reports of gangs of bikers hurtling down the roads at night intimidating people with their menacing boisterousness. It is also a well known secret that most of these biker gangs are from Muslim-dominated clusters. It is also known that, by and large, the police are mute spectators to their actions. This, in turn, has prompted a conclusion that there are no-go areas where the normal writ of the law does not run. Therefore, when something untoward happens, the inevitable conclusion is one of political complicity. Maybe the comparison is excessive, but TV reports suggest that something similar happened (or, at least, people believe happened) in Brussels that ensured the two horrible acts of terrorism. The agonised claims that these were “misguided youth” and that “terrorism has no religion” appears a little hollow when it emerges that there were pockets of the Belgian Capital that the police were afraid to enter and which provided sanctuary to the pro-ISIS terrorists.
As far as ‘responsible’ TV reporting is concerned, all Brussels is in a state of shock and mourning. But what the heaps of flowers, candles and stuffed toys that have been left in the City Centre to mourn the victims don’t acknowledge is the undercurrent of rage that accompanies each outrage. Together, this rage forms the basis of a virulent but often silent political reaction as have been witnessed in France, Holland and now, even Germany.
The heads of Government have to maintain equanimity and repeat the mantra that “terror has no religion.” They are duty bound to prevent expressions of retaliatory hate from engulfing those innocent minorities who genuinely want no part of political disorder. However, by not acknowledging that both swagger and radicalism have some basis in communities they are actually fuelling an anger that could be explosive. Being upfront is always hard but the sense of greater good demands legitimate outlets for popular frustrations. There is, after all, nothing as dangerous as a large community that sees itself as the silent majority that feels done in by the organised political blackmail of a small handful.
The lesson is clear: a public discussion on the unfortunate lynching in Vikaspuri is as important as the outrage over the beef-related murder in Dadri. There is no place for either denial or double-standards.