Discussions over Tea (Of course, cutting maar ke)

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

SOCIETY : Vision - 2020 ?

Ravikiran raised an interesting point on Yazad's blog as a rejoinder to Jivha's post on the wrongs of vigilantism.

If we take a look at India's class structure in the coming decades, it shall be apparent that there shall be a large gap between the three strata of society - the upper class who are moving to a more westernized India without looking at what they're leaving behind, a large upper-middle class which has grown out of the affluence of the 1990s and the lower classes, those of agrarian India. As these gaps increase, so will the levels of misunderstanding between each of them and the downward disdain and the upward awe. Such large social stratifications will only lead more people into corruption to move across strata.

If we look at why a person adheres to the law it all boils down to one common idea - he belief that two people who interact will adhere to the law in a common way thereby avoiding conflict. But when the other side breaks the rules first, steps outside the boundaries of the law and isn't punished for it, it is then that the helplessness rises.
If you look at the American state, where a lot of individual movements are defined by the law and people actually adhere to them, it is a commonly accepted fact that it is the fear of punishment that spurs this adherence. The failure of the law to capture and punish by law these offences will eventually cascade into the formation of a lawless state.

When such a large social breakdown occurs, there will arise a group of people who will feel strongly about the state of the nation and the lawlessness that prevails.

In the extreme, but not so distant extreme situations, such groups might give rise to the concept of "vigilantes" in Indian society. Vigilantism as a concept arises due to the loss of faith in the judicial system and the law and order situation in any region.

The earliest signs of vigilantes came into being in ancient Rome when having disposed of his co-ruler Marc Antony, Augustus created a corps of fire-fighters called the "vigilantes".They had a secondary task of keeping vigil to prevent crime, helping the Praetorian Guard on an "as required" basis. Later examples of vigilantism are apparent in 19th century USA, where groups were formed in the wild west to overcome the lawlessness. Subsequent groups have been formed without much success in Peru, Argentina and Turkey in the 20th century.

India, is at a crossroad, with respect to this. The Gujarat riots and the subsequent failure of the justice system to bring the criminals/ perpetrators to book has lead to a sense of helplessness within the masses. The fact that corruption is active and even successful in most of the cases at a high level, which is indicated by the Badals, Telgis and even the Bangaru Laxmans, will only spur these moves by the common man.

It is always true that not everyone disillusioned by the system makes a vigilante. A vigilante is one who actually believes he/she has the power to judge and execute the punishment. The average Indian isn't dynamic enough to form or participate in such a movement. Yet it can whip up a frenzy of sentiment across the people. But a vigilante movement can divide a society - it will be supported in some parts of society by those who feel that someone should do something about the situation, as opposed to those who believe that the law and order should be left to the law and order, irrespective of the actual convictions rates of the judiciary. Even now, the Orissa state police supports a group called the "Green Tigers" which is an anti-naxal vigilante group.

Yet vigilante groups can go wrong if they lose control over the cadre and the sense of "justice" which they started off from. At least, that's what happened in the 1960s-70s in South America with most of the vigilante groups. It is a bleak vision indeed.

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