Social Distance & Violence- Our Unpaid cognisable offences
Violence, unlike its portrayal is rarely an individual reality that emerges from a vacuum. Our perception of violence and the response it evokes is a product of socialization with culture, ethnicity, sense of identity, technology, skill, all playing a significant role, at times far more than the long hands of the law.
A reality to confront the United Nations or other agencies, when setting in place a universal frame to perceive, to react and act (to prevent, restrict or reform/rehabilitate), be it to address violence or assertion of rights.
Given the diversity in culture, technological advancement, and presence of conflict between individuals or communities, if setting in systems of management with definite terms of reference is seen as the only option to facilitate the evolution of a collective frame of reference from a distance, the task would prove trying and is bound to fail.
Is there a short cut to deal with violence sans its socio-political reality?
Our visual media sharpens its skills to portray violence, for us to relate to and identify with actors or animations in the virtual world. We are in tune with the creations and look forward for the journey, our mind tries to direct the course of events or at least relate with it; we rarely want to distance our emotions from the visuals.
Our mind set changes, when watching news coverage on violent confrontation between groups with diverse perceptions or world views. We take all steps possible to distance ourselves from the events flashing on the screen, be it to sip a cup of coffee, smoke a cig, or simply be acutely objective or cynical about life. No longer the desire to direct the course of events or to relate, only a desire to switch off- immediately or later after news loses its news value. A desire to maintain a distance at any cost.
Admitted, there are times when section of the viewers identifies with the other side, based on their perception and intensity of identification they take different steps, be it to shift from a viewer to that of actor seeking social/political change through peaceful assertion of their views or taking on arms to act out their disagreement.
Individuals may want to reduce any felt or perceivable distance with the group they identify with, for which they may change their faith, lifestyle, social network and in extreme cases uproot themselves and their families. Any measure is taken to reduce distance and strengthen active identification process.
This analytical/introspective piece tries to explore the role of social distance reducing or increasing perceived vulnerability to violence and management of violence.
I. Social Distance and Our lives
Social Distance, the concept that is very much part of our daily lives, we rarely discern it except as part of our holistic perception or understanding of a situation. At the same time, social scientists understanding its relevance, hope to be able to measure it like intelligence, someday.
As pointed by Robert Park (1924), the lady of the house may be in most intimate personal relations with her cook, but this drastically changes when guests arrive. While, in West professionalism has taken over, there still exists dichotomy for when they meet in different social setting after work hours, the subordinate in a social relation would rarely take for granted his/her presence to be acknowledged.
In India, it is rarely subtle the sudden shifts in non verbal communication can be stark for acute observer, and both parties of the interaction accept this as matter of fact basis. Why do we do this, an interesting query for introspection.
I. a. Social Distance and Identities
We cling to our identities for they give meaning to our existence but are they more relevant than being humane. It is an assertion of freedom to hold on to our rituals, life style and violation of the same when we to insist others follow our footsteps with no questions asked.
Our arrogant claim that values and perceptions we adhere to, be upheld by others only bring forth our naïve understanding about our species- the human form; for it has taken on and lived by norms of many cultures, travelled through different spaces to reach its present location and form. As per our convenience we cordon off our historical time lines and guard our areas with commendable diligence, the problem arises when we want no deviations and dream of uniform replicas of us all over the global space.
Social Distance and Gender Identification.
English language may have positive terms for female gender, the fairer sex or better half. These are just words, often most cultures expect women to submissively walk behind or stand by the side. Admitted there are couples who enjoy harmony of power play within relationships, but the general trend remains skewed.
If, anyone has doubts and state equality exists in western culture, please take another look beyond personal liberties of dress code, consumerist life style, rights enjoyed upon divorce; there is at maximum token representation of women in positions of power in area of governance, military, finance/banking, corporate etc.
What is shocking is that in spite of the great effort cultures take to show the woman their place in society; men still don’t seem to feel all that powerful. They would not think twice about using force of disproportionate proposition to assert self in domestic life. The question to be asked why are men so insecure, for a secure being rarely feels so threatened even when holding position of power. Why the continuous need for stimuli that assert their positions of power?
The relevance of these queries will be significant, if one were to go through reasons for fatal domestic violence, in India. The reason is as simple as “when I came home and asked for food, she was grumbling; I got angry hit her hard with iron rod and she died”. Domestic crimes are often indicators of how Governance (be it any political ideology) has miserably failed to be gender sensitive. The total insensitivity of all political parties in India to look at issue of right of women to land and other family assets, is a clear indication of the abysmal concern any political ideology has about woman and her search for identity.
The stark gap between governance measures to strengthen gender sensitivity and instances of sexual assaults and fatal crimes is widening.The dark side of skewed male superiority is evident when crimes are reported where vicious sexual assault and mutilation is carried out emphasizing the perverse assertion of power. All in the name of failed Love (sic) or for being taunted and male ego being trampled upon (sic).
Is society really not to blame, for identity and sensitivity to gender is something that evolves where family, institutes for socialisation (including religious), educational centres and community at large play a central role.
Ways in which society decimates right of girl/woman, especially the assertion of “I”:
When female foeticide is ignored and sex ratio discrepancies become rampant across a state and brides are brought in from another state, moulded to meet specific requirement. Of course, any failures are discarded. I wonder what happens when sex ratio discrepancies become a matter of fact across states, will the brides be imported from nearby countries and then tailor made to fit.
When girl child is asked to be absent from school to take care of younger siblings it is not only the second status of girl versus the boy that is asserted it also belittles the beautiful act of nurturing in mind of the boy. While discontinuing of education is crime, irrespective of gender, the beauty of nurturing inculcated in the young can build a better sensitive society.
Another instance where culture tries to eliminate emphasis of “I” in a girl or woman is seen even in case of the attire code insisted upon. It is not only on religious grounds that a woman is expected to hide her face, which may be linked to belief that men are so fickle that a little amount attractive stimuli can corrupt their mind. There also other cultures in India, where woman is expected to hide her face behind a veil at the same time it is fine if she exposes other parts of her body. Have been asked by friends from other cultures as to the logic behind it. In my mind the only explanation is that, it is another instance for society to assert that “I” in a girl or woman is relevant as long as it is linked to husband and immediate family. For development of “I” is a process that can occur in different dimensions and being always behind a veil is not conducive for development of a critical, independent mind but a submissive and obedient self.
Often girls are socialized to an extent that they accept many rituals as part of life. As a teenager I realized my perception may be more critical than others. A young girl is expected to make herself pretty and present herself to prospective bridegroom’s family, often offering tea/coffee or snacks. While the future to be in laws, assess the girl’s grace, checks for deformities, and query about her skills. As a young girl the only parallel I could draw to this was that of cattle market where customers come and check out cows in terms of grace, milk productivity and scope for breeding. The worst is the conversations, where girl is objectified, analysed, judged as though the universe has given them special rights to be judgemental. No thought about young children who may be hanging around and are being moulded to objectify a woman. At a young age, I realized the ordeal is not for me, for I wanted and had the luxury of being the subject of my own reality and not an object for someone else. My parents stood by my freedom to decide, though their point of view differed.
The final assertion of irrelevance of “I” for a girl child occurs when honour killing is justified by family and community. They state if a girl chooses to assert “I”, they will be silenced.
Since, we spend a lot of our energies to strengthen the scope of social distances between gender all towards asserting the secondary status of girl, can we actually distance ourselves from act violence committed by a member of our society. It is time for introspection.
Social Distance and Caste/Race Identities:
Our fascination for social distance never ends, we use it as the tool to maintain arm’s length with all whom we belief can be a threat to our identity. Have travelled to many parts of India, to conflict areas, to rural parts, got the good fortune of visiting some distant lands but nowhere did I feel a victim of racism as I did once on train journey through Europe. This does not deny the warm and friendly interaction with so many friends and professionals in Europe, the reason I did not want to visit a stray incident of racism I was a butt off. Now, I am doing so as part of introspection for these incidents can make or break the process of change.
Dropped off at the station, I boarded a cross country train, was told I could take a seat in any of the coaches, for there is no specific reservation. Walked through the passage, with my luggage in tow, on and off reminding self of the ever ignored promise- not to lug books when on the move.
My steps came to halt in front of almost empty coach, with hardly five or six persons. Tried, and not very alert decided to settle down, as I tried to ease out of my shoulder bag, the situation changed. Till then picture perfect family image changed to where negative energy spewed out. Words flew in local language, but that didn’t matter for expressions clearly stated their disdain, aversion for the foreign being. The sudden change, where finesse, elegance, polite mannerism all flew out of the window to be replaced with pure venom for a being that dared to cross the unstated boundary of social distance maintained and treasured. Left the scene, feeling for a few moment being part of Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis.
A few moments later, did find a seat, tried to compose inner thoughts, shutting out reality to relax for a while. Only to feel the curious warmth of a co-passenger, her smiling face and soothing eye, slowly led to a friendly interaction with the girl and another youth close by. Their curiosity to know about my trip slowly gave way to them coaxing me to think about Europe as a nice place to stay. I evaded stating, I would miss the warmth of India for sun shines through with ease. But, my inner voice queried -Does it? At times India is brutal towards outsiders. The incident indicates, in many cultures, sens of Us and Others runs very deep. While I have the luxury of many images to counter a negative incident, will positive spaces be available to the migrants who feel alienated and excluded and have to live a life where experiences that are emotionally taxing is a part of normalcy. The first generation older migrants who chose to leave for distant lands, for safer/ better future will have the rationale for migration as the safety net to ensure the feeling of being saved overwrites sense of exclusion. This may not be the case for second generation and third generation migrants. Probably the only safety net would a sense of inclusion and being part of mainstream society.
India is warm for me, who is part of mainstream, but otherwise it can be an ordeal as revealed by incidents of abuse towards outsiders. Individuals from African countries do face racial abuse, physical and verbal, with limited option to fight back. Even citizens of India from North East have to face wrath at times, for having different facial features, cultural associations and food habits. The wrath and contempt, which is capable for being brutal, quickly changes to soothing smiles and friendly gestures when seeking to have a smooth ride to utilize the natural resources of the North Eastern region.
Mainstream Indians are rarely concerned about the abuse meted out on outsiders, while many would not want to act out their negative perceptions, all steps are taken to keep a social distance- restrict social interactions, create specific spots where outsiders can reside, ensure disproportionate rates are recovered for services and resources provided. All is done in such systematic manner, that it almost reaches a state of normalcy.
Social Distance and Religious Identities – Influence of Flux
Religion, irrespective of its form, belief system, rituals and world view generated, all claim to be a path towards ensuring a better place in another life or a way to ensure quality of existence in next birth. It is sort of a trade-off, strangely there are many games that occur even within this trade-off.
Rarely anyone is willing to actually follow the basic tenets of any religion; to be humane, to place altruistic values above vested interests, the clear guideline that human beings are rarely capable of understanding or comprehending the Power they worship, irrespective of what name they have decided to associate with the Power, falls on deaf years. The ardent believers among us decide to take to arms, to maim to mutilate, do everything beyond the imaginations of any other species to protect the Power we believe in, as though the Power is so vulnerable that Man can protect.
Since, we believe we are incapable of following the basic tenets expected of us, we decided to find other ways of pleasing the Power we worship, for which we fall back on our world view as to what we value and then follow suit. The depth of our understanding is evident when we sharpen our skills to perform rituals through generations and strengthen power structures associated with it, creating structures of grandeur to assert our belief and where offerings of gold, money, oil, milk, flowers, incense are made with hope that it will make up for our blatant lack of appetite to Know, Comprehend and Experience the Power we claim to believe in.
We all decided, in our small ways, as we are incapable of actually adhering to basic expectations of our religion, we will assert our faith by strengthening our religious industry. When we found rituals and praying taxing, we sort to outsource; thereby option for a representative to say prayers on our behalf for a price evolved. Basically we ensured the industry called religion is totally and completed connected to object we value most Money, though it has no intrinsic or transactional value of any sort in the spiritual world.
Religion, any name it goes under, has different types of followers almost like a continuum with non-believers at one end (some of them abhor any association with term religion but will stand up with great passion for values reflected in religion), with majority falling in the middle with varying degree of adherence to set way of expressing faith and at the end of the continuum is the small minority, who are asserting their presence with such vehemence, as the vanguard of religion. We, the human species are indeed an interestingly lot, we trample over the core of religion and then are at each other throat about asserting importance of our rituals and right to use brutal force to ensure adherence by others.
The fanatic selective adherence to religion, has to led to certain groups turning themselves to vanguard with narrow and short-sighted vision that leaves limited room for any rational discussion.
Lynched to death for a Cuisine Choice
Proud to be a human and an Indian, yet bow down in shape at intolerance for deviation from our set ideas and beliefs. We claim to be a democracy, yet there are many instances where individuals find their assertions of freedom of expression lead to being silenced. Why such disproportionate use of force, are we convinced fear is the only strategy available, if so will it work.
There are many crimes that have been meted out on the vulnerable population the recent one win hands down as a perverse act for we lynched a man to death for having a different cuisine choice (sic). What an achievement to be proud of for a democracy after 69 years of independence, and we continue nurture these acts of violence.
Another incident where democratic governance of India, out did itself, while the family of the lynched victim got continuously harassed, the government machinery being professional tested out the meat seized and identified it to be beef. None of the government machinery part of the process saw any irony in the course of their actions. Is this democratic governance or cultural identity based abusive governance at its best?
The manner in which Dalit community and tribal population have been marginalized leaves a scar on democratic India. It is sad even in a state like Kerala, which can be proud being in par with some of developed countries, has children from tribal communities die due to malnutrition or curable diseases. The height of insensitive was evident when a development plan ensured the common ground near houses of tribal population was made fit for eye with well-designed flooring while the population continued to reside in dilapidated housing. When criticized for such shallow development initiative, the counter stated that it is a participatory decision. Then the question is what is participatory process? Is it asking leading question, to a vulnerable group, with limited powers and hardly any information as what are issues to be considered prior to choice of putting entire limited resources available to develop a community path, at its best.
Recent news articles highlight how members from Dalit community have been protesting against vigilant activities by cow brigades. They have taken measures to catch the attention of the democratic government about their right to exist as citizens, their protest includes refusal to carry the carcass of dead animals.
Wonder what would government do if cattle slaughter did stop, will the government actually be able to provide feed and medication at a national level, as it would weigh on the government. When children are dying because of lack of nutrition, when citizens try to choose medicines from the list prescribed for them, when tribal lives lost because of curable disease and malnutrition. On what firm ground can one stand and state the limited resources available should be spent on cattle and not humans.
Asserting Right to Maim or Kill on behalf of religion
The political aspiration of power, the desire to ensure network associations are created to meet our market need at macro and micro level, finds us twisting reality, our actions and its repercussion. A luxury that ensures we can sip our cup of coffee with ease while images of war play out on our screens.
World views differ, the images we watch with detachment may evoke strong passion among some others, it gives them motivation to stand up and fight against what they believe are criminal acts. Anyone who works on issues linked to conflict or war, understands there are far more grey areas, rather than black and white demarcations which we are found of focusing on. A lot of energy is spent on finding, addressing, and changing the areas perceived to be dark. Isn’t it relevant to change grey areas as this offers fodder for drastic changes in perception about violence/ conflict. The grey areas include perceived existence of discrimination, violation of rights, feelings of humiliation and absence of hope.
Individuals who exist in grey areas or identify with it do have limited resources to fall back on for a different world view and can be easily manipulated. Recent reports of individuals being fascinated by certain videos, even those that glorify violence. It is seen as an individual perversion, that leads to individuals enjoying violence. Isn’t it possible there something more to it? Development of Artificial Intelligence with scope for embedded manipulation may be giving options to instil positive feelings even without the viewer being aware of the behaviour changes/manipulation happening. While positive behaviour change is welcome, what happens when unaware individuals are exposed to negative behaviour modification. Wonder who can be held responsible, technology developer or those who acquire it illegally or system of Governance itself. For isn’t making citizen aware and capable of deal with threat a part of governance.
What can protect a person from being enslaved through manipulation- is a critical mind. But, none of the existing systems of governance focuses on critical thinking, the focus is create set patterns of thought so that citizens are amiable to control with minimum input.
It is this attitude towards governance that is being questioned at present through violence, probably it’s time for systems of governance to change.
Slimmer of Hope
While we take pride in distancing ourselves from cultures that are different, there are people who show finesse even if life has offered little to them. I found such an experience in the streets of Manipur, hungry, I went to have lunch in a small shack lunch home. It was way past lunch time or snack time in line with local culture, women were busy cleaning up and getting the place ready for the next meal of the day.
With a smile I patted my tummy and asked for a bite, was not sure what to expect as mainlanders have not given them much for a positive touch. The women smiled back at me, one indicated to have seat and other got busy and gave me fresh rotis with snack on the side. Feeling satisfied I asked for the cost- Rs.15 was the reply.
Felt ashamed, for in spite of the raw deal meted out to people in Manipur, women did not think of charging extra for off time lunch being served. If, ordinary women struggling for survival in streets of Manipur can be humane and fair, why can’t we learn to be considerate to others, at least.