State must treat hooligans as criminals
The recent incident in Mangalore, where a pack of criminals attacked a pub and assaulted the women inside, dragging two of them out on the street in full public view in broad daylight has rightfully caused uproar and indignation across the country. They did all this in the name of preserving Indian culture, which apparently forbids women to visit pubs and having a drink. Kicking, pushing, terrorising women, on the other hand, is all part of a culture that revels in ‘Jiski Lathi Uski Bhains’ (one who has the stick, owns the buffalo). Barring a few, including the politicians, everybody has condemned the incident and demanded action against the hooligans. Indian minister of state for women and child development, Renuka Choudhury called the attackers India’s Taliban and deemed the attack an assault on Indian womanhood.
It is true that ostensibly the attack was on Indian women and their right to decide what they want to do with their lives and their time. But it is in a series of a growing and dangerous trend that seems to have left the Indian state completely helpless and unsure about the means of fighting this. Hooligans, lumpen elements, unemployed, disgruntled youth and plain criminals forge a common identity as a mob and seek security in their numbers.
From this security they draw strength and proceed to attack, vandalise, harass, humiliate or even molest their chosen target. And all this is done under the moralistic umbrella of a just cause: Whether it is the rights of the people of a particular region, or a protest against some slight to their religious or political hero or even protection of Indian religion and culture. In the bargain, loss of life, damage to public and private property and trauma suffered by the victims get justified in the name of the cause.
Mobocracy has emerged as the latest challenge to the Indian State. Once upon a time, mob violence was associated with riots, especially communal riots. In the aftermath of the riot, perhaps, abhorred by the carnage wreaked by the faceless, nameless mob, community leaders used to blame the atrocities on the criminals who they claimed had infiltrated their ranks. Despite the heat of communal passions, once things calmed down nobody justified mob violence and made excuses for it.
But Bal Thackeray, founder of Shiv Sena (Shiva’s Army), understood the power of a mob and State’s complete powerlessness in the face of it. His Shiv Sainiks (Shiva’s soldiers) roamed the streets of Bombay (now Mumbai) and terrorised the people to fall in line. They vandalised public property, kicked people around and dared the state to take action against them. Since the state repeatedly failed to take any action, the Shiv Sainiks became bolder. During Bombay’s worst communal carnage they openly rioted and even killed several people. The Justice Sri Krishna Committee (which investigated Bombay riots of 1993) report indicted not only the Shiv Sainiks but Bal Thackeray himself. But even if Justice Sri Krishna hadn’t investigated it, ample evidence was given by Thackeray himself who first congratulated his Sainiks through various media for demolishing the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on 6 December 1992 (that eventually led to the riots) and then for teaching Muslims a lesson during the riots.
As if this was not enough emasculation of the government, he dared it to arrest him, not once but several times. Every time Thackeray issued his dare, senior government officials went in a huddle. How to take on this man? If he is arrested, his Sainiks would create havoc in Maharashtra and if he is not he will continue with his diatribe. In all these years, the State has never been able to muster courage to face up to this mob terror. Today, Thackeray’s Shiv Sena experiment has sprouted several new Senas (armies) of various hues. His estranged nephew Raj Thackeray floated Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (army for new development of Maharashtra). His vision for Maharashtra includes bashing up Hindi-speaking people and north Indians living in that state. At the first opportunity, his hooligans are on the streets terrorising people in name of the state, religion, language or just about anything. They attack schools, libraries, hotels, government offices and so on with impunity. Such is his nuisance value that even well-established and respected artists/film stars are periodically compelled to apologise to him publicly if he says that they or their words have hurt his sentiments. And the State looks on.
The attackers of the Mangalore pub go by the name of Shri Ram Sene (Lord Ram’s Army) and founder member, Pramod Muthalik, is supposed to have been an ex-member of Shiv Sena at one point. Muthalik has now been arrested, but the state chief minister was at pains to point out that while he did not approve of the way in which Muthalik’s men went on molesting women, he does agree with their anti-pub stance. “Pub culture should not be encouraged,” he said, so that Muthalik is suitably mollified despite his arrest.
To crush this mob-terror the State has to act beyond party politics. Or else, several more Senas would erupt in every state, terrorising the people and mocking the government.