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Quantifying outrage: mob violence

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Bookkeeping cannot be the response to gratuitous mob violence

How much is too much? How do you measure out in coffee spoons the amount of sorrow you are allowed to display? In surreal fashion, that is what the debate focusses on today after a 15-year-old is lynched. Not the event, but whether and how much it is being “blown up”. When a boy is beaten to death over a seat dispute, how much worse can you “make” it sound than what it is already?

There are inflection points in history when one event triggers off a cascade of events. These points aren’t necessarily unique. When the whole country erupted in protest over Nirbhaya, it wasn’t as if horrific rapes hadn’t happened before or didn’t happen after, but Nirbhaya spoke to our core in a way that made us cry out loud, louder than we had before. It isn’t as if Dalits hadn’t been driven to suicide before Rohith Vemula, but he spoke to us in death in a way that smote our conscience. And we responded.

 

The violence has edged closer

Commentators who point out anomalies in the media’s or the chatterati’s responses are not wrong. They hold up a mirror and if what we see in it makes us flinch, then so be it. If we failed to be angry enough earlier, we live today with mobs that have edged closer to our doors.

Every Dalit village we saw being burnt down and every upper caste family we allowed to escape with impunity, every one of those incidents was the ink with which Vemula wrote his final note.

Showing up the chattering class’s hypocrisy or calling the media to account is an important task and must continue. It must be encouraged. But let us recognise that it is a process, not a response. Bookkeeping cannot be the response to the events unfolding around us today and certainly not a response to gratuitous mob violence.

When a boy is lynched, being human doesn’t allow us to patiently draw out a pipette and measure out outrage in millilitres to be jotted down in registers against incidents that came before. That is not who we are. This ‘nationalism’ we tout so often now, if it means anything it possibly means recognising that we are not ledger-toting clerks but a people who can be moved to tears by a boy’s murder.

When Mahatma Gandhi went on a five-day fast and called off the Non-Cooperation Movement in 1922, it was to protest the outbreak of violence in Chauri Chaura that saw 23 policemen burnt to death. He had the courage to call off a movement that epitomised the revolt against colonialism to express outrage at mob violence against policemen who represented the same regime. He would do this over and over again in the course of his career. That is the legacy of protest we have inherited. Let’s not substitute it with mere accountancy.

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Printable version | Feb 17, 2020 6:12:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/quantifying-outrage-mob-violence/article19165957.ece

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