RAJENDRA CHENNI

The violence that marked Rajkumar's death was an indication of the two distinct worlds that exist in Bangalore: almost as if one had vacated it and the other had usurped it

It would be wise to begin by admitting the obvious that the images of mob violence we see are images selectively made available to us through the media and therefore the comments we offer on these are not comments on a social reality "out there" but on a virtual reality represented to us by the media. I am trying to recall the continuous invasion of images of mob violence on television channels following the death and during the funeral of the matinee idol, Dr. Rajkumar. The images fitted so well with my own educated middle-class notions of urban mob violence.

Ocean of people

In this huge ocean of human figures, the cameras couldn't catch even a fleeting glimpse of the upper-class Banglorean. Not one whose face or body language would even approximate those of the persons which the media has trained me to recognise as the civilised, professionally trained IT/BT generation. It was as though of the two worlds of Bengaluru, one had vacated and the other had usurped it, lording over well-known landmarks and roads. The horror was that these images seemed to be meant to confirm and reinforce stereotype of the urban mob — unemployed, rowdy youth teeming in slums, given to small-time crimes and vandalism, men who can turn themselves into beasts with a sachet of cheap liquor, who want to destroy, for no reason, all that which looks civilised and modern. For the middle class, it was impossible to sympathise with but ever so easy to understand "those people". Those people who are denizens of the dark spaces of Bangalore, who were always a threat to Bangalore culture. The ugly scenes also confirmed what every educated individual believes — that the popular culture of films, stars and heroes was a "low culture" encouraging mob sentiment and fan frenzy. If one had any doubts about this, it was the Mumbai and Delhi-based television channels which invited responses to "leading" questions such as "Would such mob frenzy over a cine star be seen anywhere other than in South India?" The subtext was amply clear. The stereotypical South with its irrational adulation of film stars, also implying an under-developed political awareness. The shocking fact was that this was happening in the cyber city of the future whose task forces are headed by IT/BT czars. The unpleasant conclusion staring every analyst in the face was that only a small niche of Bangalore was modern enough to house Infosys, Wipro and Biocon but the barbarian Huns — the poor, the unaccommodated and the uncivilisable people — were in all the dirty nooks of the city, always ready to overrun and destroy the civilised parts. Very few seemed to realise the horror of the logic behind this analysis. The logic that argued that the city has a split personality with a modern liberal Jekyll face and an atavistic, violent Hyde face. The unnoticed violence was the violence of socio-cultural stereotypes which were being reinforced with the blood on the streets. Mob violence is a language and a semiotic system through which very complex perceptions of the social reality are expressed. While the violence needs to be condemned in every possible way, we cannot afford to be insensitive to what it was trying to say. Without ignoring the ironies of a popular culture industry like the Kannada film industry with its dubious financing and mercenary distribution and exhibition, representing the rhetoric of poverty and justice, it is clear for the "masses" the celluloid hero like Dr. Rajkumar is the surrogate welfare state, the infallible embodiment of the constitution, while the real governments are a mafia of black-marketers, law breakers and the powerful. For the really unaccommodated humans of Bangalore he was the de facto government doling out social justice in every film. Their conviction about the rapacious nature of the government was proved by the gross absence of proper funeral arrangements. This should explain why the mob methodically targeted the government in its visible form as police. For Dr. Rajkumar's audience, it was a case of the symbol of good governance being insulted by an inept and exploitative governance that demanded punishment through street violence. In these times of globalisation (that is abdication of the state of its social welfare responsibilities) the state is seen as a handmaiden of the rich. In the absence of any politically mature people's movement, the anger and frustration of the deprived is ventilated in frenzied acts of destruction. The state has lost its image (albeit never a totally real one) of the protector of the poor in its hurry to worship the wealthy. This time, the occasion was the demise of a great cultural icon; but it is clear that any occasion would do to demonstrate violently against the state which is now practising a new brutality, to use Arundhati Roy's phrase, against the socially under-privileged.

Denial of truth

It is also clear that modern democracy and the modern city create a semiotic system through which resistance is articulated. The apotheosis of Dr. Rajkumar by the government itself during his prolonged kidnap by Veerappan, its open support to mob frenzy and sentiment during the episode, had already clearly laid down the script of the recent episode. The state had in the past used all its bureaucratic, administrative and communicational instruments to acknowledge that Dr. Rajkumar was an extra-constitutional source of authority. Therefore by bungling in making the funeral arrangements it was already vulnerable to suspicion of disloyalty. Nor did the mob need any lessons in its effective use of the communicative channels. The deliberately long and tortuous procession of the mortal remains, the craving for large number of people, public articulation of grief, the parade of celebrities and VVIPs (on the TV screen), the pre-rehearsed eulogising running commentaries by the TV crew were all accepted forms of public communication. One doesn't want to make a case for the violence, but social analysis is impoverished by the blanket refusal to understand the language of violence. As long as we continue to ignore the double speak of development, modernisation and globalisation through which it privileges a few and orphans the many, there will be many occasions when the masses resort to the language of violence. And when it is the case of the only durable icon of contemporary Kannada culture — Dr. Rajkumar — we should be at least chastened enough to learn to interpret this language.