Lack of action

Published : Mar 13, 2009 00:00 IST

College students protest in Bangalore on February 8 against the attack on women by Sri Rama Sene activists.-

College students protest in Bangalore on February 8 against the attack on women by Sri Rama Sene activists.-

GRANTED there were thugs and ruffians in the city of Mangalore some weeks ago, and they attacked girls and some men in a pub called Amnesia. Granted, too, that a few years ago, in Meerut, a group of policemen and policewomen also thugs and ruffians going by their behaviour attacked young men and women in a public park, slapping some girls repeatedly, because they were sitting there with their lovers. Granted, too, that on February 14, there were incidents across the country where men and women were beaten up or forced to marry or humiliated in some other way merely because they were sitting with one another, perhaps being affectionate, even loving. Granted, again, that a girl was dragged around by her hair shown repeatedly on television news channels by a policeman who is, clearly, as much of a ruffian as those who attacked the Amnesia pub in Mangalore.

And, in response to all this being shown on television, and reported in the press, a number of womens groups have protested vigorously and angrily. Renuka Chowdhury, the Union Minister of Women and Child Development, has been particularly vocal in her condemnation of these incidents and demanded that States take strong action against this seemingly growing trend of physical attacks on women who are with male friends in public places. We have all heard by now of the group formed, which calls itself the Association of Pub-Going, Loose and Forward Women, and their much publicised gift of pink female underwear to Pramod Muttalik, that now well-known upholder of what he thinks are Hindu values.

Despicable acts by Muttalik and his kind of men invited strong defiant responses from womens groups across the country. Many television channels had discussions on the subject under different titles, and in all these discussions, the women on the panels were not just angry but so strident as to virtually drown out the comments by others. Rightly so, it will be said by many; unless civil society reacts strongly to such barbaric behaviour said to be aimed at upholding our sacred Hindu traditions, we will enter a time of dark chaos.

Having said this, and having also reaffirmed our belief in the true nature of our culture, which is personified by a galaxy of distinguished men and women writers, thinkers, scholars, creative minds in different fields, and others who have enriched our traditions of intellectual and social intercourse there is a small question that needs, perhaps, to be asked. It has been worrying me for some time, and I feel it needs to be stated as I find no rational answer to it, and perhaps someone more enlightened can. This is the simple question of why our right-thinking men and there are many of them, as we know are keeping quiet?

There are young men who do not subscribe to the ugly, bestial and sex-crazed instincts of the louts of the Sri Rama Sene, the Shiv Sena, the Bajrang Dal and similar groups that delude themselves that they are upholding our sacred traditions by attacking and beating women.

Why are they not coming out in their thousands and forming groups that will confront the thugs and thrash them soundly since that is what they understand and since our police bumble around writing some reports that amount to nothing in the end?

Indignation and strong statements are not enough. Not from our young men, at least. Is it not possible for them to form groups as women have and take on these louts that are turning Hinduism into a bad word, something of which other Hindus feel ashamed? There must be many who are angered by what the Sri Rama Sene goons and others like them are doing; so what do they intend to do about it? Nothing? It cannot be that our youth are all cowards.

There are, surely, enough among them to be able to confront the louts and affirm the principles of sanity in our society. The lack of action is baffling, as it is disappointing and disheartening.

Perhaps, the answer lies in the priorities that ordinary young men have; they have their studies to think of, their careers, and they do not wish to jeopardise them by getting involved in what can, in some cases, become legal complications and end in their having to appear again and again in courts for years together.

This can be a reasonable attitude, but it is at the same time a rather frightening one. It assumes that it is easy and possible to turn away, to walk on the other side, so to speak, when such incidents occur. It also points to a lack of a collective response to such outrages. Not that these responses can be orchestrated but to an extent they can be shared responses, just as the same young men cheer when India does well in a cricket match. It becomes, then, a question of how strong the shared response can be. Is it just a shared anger or can it move beyond that to something more, the actual prevention of the acts of brutalisation that these fanatics perpetrate?

It is important that one questions the lack of a shared response. A protest by an individual will result, inevitably, in the individual being attacked and beaten. In fact, that is just what happened in Mangalore and other places. What is it that prevents others from coming forward to stop the goondas, if necessary by force? It is perfectly legal it is a part of the right of private defence set out in the Indian Penal Code.

It may well be what I have described a little earlier on; that right-thinking young men think they have too much at stake to get involved. But there is another dark apprehension that does not go away and lurks at the fringes of ones awareness. Is it just a concern for their own futures that they see ordered in some way and which they think will be damaged by intervention in cases of ugly goondaism? Or is it that, in their priorities, these interventions do not merit the level of commitment that other activities do?

Interestingly, the Sri Rama Sene and other such groups appear to be fairly numerous on the ground in different States, but one cannot think of a single group that brings young men together to practice and learn what the true nature of our traditions is. If there were such groups of the kind that Swami Vivekananda and others had set up in the early part of the 20th century, or late in the 19th century perhaps shared attitudes would translate more easily into common action in the face of fascist and brutal attacks made in the name of religion.

Someone will set such groups up one day; perhaps young men in colleges, Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institutes of Management will decide that they will band together to assert the true nature of our tradition learning and practising them, much as yoga has become the focus of many groups and institutions.

The alternative is too terrible to contemplate that our bright young men who come out of our best institutions are not just looking the other way when they see a manifestation of ugly behaviour by a self-styled religious group but are, at some level, perhaps subconsciously, endorsing it.

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