Saturday, August 29, 2009

Mob justice

[guest post by Ryan]

While we were in Kolkata, one local news story particularly hit home for me. At a local amateur one-day soccer tournament, an assistant referee made a controversial offside call in the semi-finals. The penalized team's manager swore revenge and headed off with a few others. After several minutes, he returned armed and fired several shots into the soccer field, killing one person (not the referee or assistant referee). The other team's supporters then chased him and his group into a neighboring resort where he was hiding. They lit the resort on fire and all of the resort's buildings burned down while 55 guests plus staff quickly evacuated the premises. Several hours later the police took control of the scene and the fire department put out the last smoldering ashes. Last I heard, the man who initially fired the shots is still on the loose as are the instigators of the resort fire. Meanwhile, the resort manager does not believe he will rebuild. The newspaper articles were silent as to the ultimate disposition of the disputed semi-final match or the fate of the referees involved.
While this story holds particular interest for me (an American soccer referee who has made his share of disputed offside calls), it is not at all unusual here in India. I have seen dozens, if not hundreds, of similar stories on the news and in newspapers in the last 10 days I've been in India. A truck driver ran into a motorcycle, killing one person and critically injuring another; that truck and at least two other trucks from the same company were then lit on fire and a national highway was closed for several hours before police took control. Two rival politicians got into an argument which became so heated one took refuge in a nearby police station; the other followed him in and shot him to death. In the melee that followed, the dead politician's supporters killed a constabul by lighting him on fire, burnt the police station down and burned at least five police vehicles. Police captured two Maoist leaders and then the Maoists blew up several train stations near where we were staying in retribution. The list goes on and on.
In a country with over one billion people, some will undoubtedly be mean and violent. The news outlets, of course, seek these people and their stories out so they can sell the most newspapers and titilate the most viewers. However, even with these caveats, Indian people, while generally not violent, seem to live with and tolerate an amount of violence in their culture than most Americans would find truly remarkable and alarming. Despite train stations being blown up nearby and trains threatened, the trains were still overflowing. As soon as the burnt wreckage of the trucks was removed, the highway re-opened and traffic flowed normally. No one seemed particularly disturbed by (realized) threats of Maoist violence or the notion of mob justice run rampant. The culprits rarely seem to be caught and no one seems to care about that. It's hard to juxtaposition this reaction with the peaceful disposition of most Indians; 30% are vegetarian for example. I'm not entirely sure what to make of it, but I think it is a good indication that bloody video games are much less likely than handguns and real violence to make one innured to violence. As an American accustomed to hearing about the degredation of culture and our “new” violent culture, it definitely gives me some perspective and food for thought.

1 comment:

Brian said...

Standard legal theory is that "self-help" proliferates when the legal justice system is inadequate.

As an aside, my impression is that Indian violence levels overall are quite low despite occasional spectacular incidents, so people are behaving rationally by carrying on as normal. (Rates of reported violence probably understate women and children victimization, of course....)