The dangers of the mob in India

 
A video grab of the girl's assault The teenager was assaulted on a busy road

In the heart of Guwahati, a bustling city in the north-eastern state of Assam, a mob of men assault a teenage girl coming out of a bar as a journalist records it on his video camera and people gawk.

Gloating before the camera, the mob paws her, tries to strip her and burns her with cigarettes. The police arrive late - as is usually the case - and rescue the girl.

Last week, India came to know of this shocking act of depravity only after video of the assault went viral and the mainstream media picked it up. Predictable outrage gripped the airwaves and the social media. The police made their first, feeble arrests, though most of the attackers are still at large. There were allegations that the journalist, belonging to a local news channel, had incited the mob - he quit his job after denying the charge. The editor has now quit his job too.

Such attacks are becoming distressingly common in 21st Century India. Earlier this month a female lawmaker from Assam's ruling Congress party was assailed by a 100-strong mob, apparently for marrying a Muslim man without divorcing her first husband. (Assam has a steep rate of crimes against women - a shocking 36.9 per 100,000 a year, against the national average of 18.9). On New Year's eve in Gurgaon, an upscale suburb outside Delhi, several women coming out of a pub were assaulted by a group of men. And in Calcutta, a girl was picked up from outside a pub and raped, prompting the authorities to order a midnight shutdown on nightlife.

There could be many reasons why young women are becoming targets of attacks in India's big cities. More and more women are stepping out of their homes to go to work. Many believe that such assaults are a backlash by a patriarchal and stiflingly male-dominated society unable to cope with the sight of a confident, empowered woman with a mind of her own. "You drink liquor!" the Guwahati mob barked at the girl as they went after her.

More pointedly, such attacks also point to the rising tensions between two Indias - the India of the privileged and upwardly mobile reaping the benefits of a growing economy, and a darker India of urban malcontents, the jobless, lonely migrants, all seething in resentment even at the sight of young people going to a bar to have a drink.

These are the people who largely comprise "the mob" in India. It is a toxic throng of chauvinists and malcontents that revels in acting the vigilante and the moral police at the same time. The mob usually picks on soft targets - women emerging from night clubs, courting young couples. They are also known to mete out rough justice - people caught thieving, for example, are instantly lynched. Even though they represent a minority and most Indians abhor their behaviour, the "mob" also believes not much will happen to them if they are caught - the police are dysfunctional, laws are weak, witnesses are fickle and outrage is ephemeral.

Protecting women - and law-abiding citizens - from such acts need serious institutional reforms to the way India's police and laws operate. Real issues are being trivialised and debate in India has degenerated into shrill headline-grabbing histrionics.

What about a relentless campaign for a stronger police and firmer laws, argue campaigners - something India has been debating without any result for years? From democracy to mobocracy would be a dreadful descent.

 
Soutik Biswas, Delhi correspondent Article written by Soutik Biswas Soutik Biswas Delhi correspondent

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 45.

    We must bring back the SOCIAL SHAME FACTOR, the best and most effective deterrent against corruption. It's our responsibility to make those openly or known corrupt people feel ashamed & socially outcast. We should avoid making any matrimonial relationship with such person or children of such people. http://jaychatterjee.blogspot.com/2011/06/our-fight-against-corruption-and-anna.html

  • rate this
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    Comment number 44.

    India is now moving fast towards being a failed state, unless serious efforts are made (by common people) to curb corruption & crime by rich & powerful people. Check this: "Our legacy, our liability, our future"- http://jaychatterjee.blogspot.com/2011/12/our-legacy-our-liability-our-future.html

  • rate this
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    Comment number 43.

    @41. krsnamayi Hmmmm. Although this type of behaviour is unfortunately gets turned on by, how is it the same as gang molestation?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 42.

    @ Dr Joshi 39. One can't start to root out state corruption which is a cancer in Inida until it starts from the top and works its way down. No matter how many professionals on ground level try, or even if there is a critical mass of educated Indians returning to the country. Until the corrupt politicians are removed it is at most a fanciful notion.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 41.

    I recently watched 2 films on a bus in South India. In both, the "Hero" literally stalked the heroine & repeatedly sexually harassed her to win her affection. In both movies this tactic worked. With a majority of the youth in the country learning about relationships with the opposite sex from Indian films (due to the lack of social access to the opposite sex in reality)...what else can you expect?

  • rate this
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    Comment number 40.

    Oh, Its a great civilization, I wouldn't worry about it a bit.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 39.

    Things in India will change only if Professionals, Civil Servants begin to catch each other at practising or submitting to corruption

  • rate this
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    Comment number 38.

    @Essar (37). Thanks - spot on. It's because of such complacency and mindset that a society gets stuck in a hole and slips further down. Whenever such a discussion is instigated (thanks Mr Biswas), it amazes me at the number of people who play the blame game - it’s always another country’s fault!!! This is precisely the reason why human rights work in India is so so dangerious.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 37.

    @senti (#15)

    Vij (#13) is exactly right. When it comes to illegal and nefarious behavior, speaking out is NOT colonial mentality. Indians are extremely averse to accepting criticisms and time and again, they resort to accusing people who dare to criticize in that manner.

    In general, Indians lack civility big time. And, one CANNOT correct a problem if one does NOT acknowledge the problem first!!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 36.

    To this reader, Indians lacks civility. Lawlessness in a mob situation is ALL to common in India. Mobs attack - and NOT just against women - for any perceived infraction, whether they make sense or not. They attack if there if there is traffic accident, if there is perceived blasphemy, if there is political differences, if there is an union (read today's news on Maruti-Suzuki plant), etc. etc.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 35.

    A remembrance: Sonali Mukherjee - pretty cadet, large dreams. Nine years ago she rejected advances of 3 neighbourhood tormentors in Dhanbad, Jharkhand. Acid was splashed on her face. She is blind, partially deaf & her face looks melted. Her attackers made bail, are back on the streets, regularly threatening her against pursuing the case. It becomes evident what must change - the laws.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 34.

    25.Kiwi Andy

    Bang on the money.

    A bit like what I was trying to say, but you are MUCH more elequent!

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 33.

    There is enough honesty, kindness & compassion in Indian culture.

    There is a lack of access to opposite sex in Indian society. Many young men and women end up behaving badly once opportunities arrive suddenly and unexpectedly.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 32.

    Soutik, you are correct for all the reasons for these animal activities. I will add only two, one, criminal peers, the leaders of the country who run Government always incite people against others, manage communal riots, spread hate against communities. The other is parents- if your Dad and mom is uneducated, and anti-social, wife abuser, neighbor -hater, how you expect that a son will be a saint.

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    Comment number 31.

    Governance in India is weak, "mobs" know not much will happen to them if they are caught. Speedy arrest and action against the perpetrators and stiff punishment will help-especially if it is meted to well off and well connected.
    Police look at women going to clubs and bars at late hours as morally loose. They need training in "law" and their duty to carry the law.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 30.

    In India Bold and Independent women face criticism from all layers of society particularly by their parents and then in-laws.It is still believed that women should be raised to do household work and SHOULD NOT HAVE A MIND OF THEIR OF OWN. As such characters cause difficulty to ADJUST with in-laws. This is supported by most BOLLYWOOD movies where ideal women are portrayed as Docile and Submissive.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 29.

    There are so many factors which are responsible for these incidences that I can write a book about it.To be precise this is result of chauvinistic & patriarchal Indian society who believe in 'men being Superior'.Since childhood they are raised to look at their dads to make decisions and get the best food/bed/facilities at home.In most part of India girls are raised to cater to men.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 28.

    Male punishment is always mild. India has no special law against sexual assault or harassment. 3 sections of Indian Penal Code (509, 354 & 294) deal with incidents that "insult modesty of a woman" or "intrude upon her privacy"; assault or use of "criminal force". Max punishment is a year's simple imprisonment, or a fine, or both. It becomes obvious what must change = the laws.

  • rate this
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    Comment number 27.

    Guwahati incident is street sexual harassment, growing abuse, as more women are educated, join the work force. Fearing restrictions on mobility, young women hesitate to report incidents even to their families; if they do, they are discouraged from filing complaints. Prajnya Trust, a Chennai-based advocacy: Most often, incidents are dismissed as as "eye-teasing" - whatever that means.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 26.

    INDIA IS WORST PLACE TO BE A WOMAN. ranking below Saudi Arabia (Poll released last month, 63 countries). Another poll ranked India among 5 worst places to be born a woman, better only than Afghanistan, Congo & Pakistan. Don't be surprised therefore when a woman is raped, authority blames her dress, her attitude, her independence.

 

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