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Ordinary people who raise their voices are beaten up by mobs

January 16, 2008
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The incident where a family of four – Selvin Chetty (40), his wife Priscilla Chetty (40) and their two daughters aged 11 and 14 years – were attacked and beaten up by a mob of 300 people shocked me. Is this the kind of mob rule that we have to live with in India now? This incident didn’t even take place in the hinterlands of India, but in Nerul, not far from Mumbai city. And that too in a prestigious supermarket like D-Mart.

The provocation seemed minor to me. Chetty (he works with the South African embassy) had an argument with a shop-assistant and apparently clutched her hand to stop her from putting some biscuit packets into his shopping cart. I wonder how the girl thought that this was an act of molestation or sexual assault (the man was in the shop with his wife and two teenage daughters) but she did. But even if she thought it was molestation, why did she (or her friends) call up fellow villagers (Karave village) and incite them? It would have been better to make a complaint as it would have humiliated Chetty far more. But the way things turned out, the sympathy is for Chetty. A mob launched a murderous attack on the man and his family and it is clear as to why. For one thing these mobs have no fear of the law. Secondly, goons are usually part of mobs and use the anonymity of crowds to do their thing. Is it any wonder then that Chetty’s chain was snatched? He should be thankful that his family was not molested! His daughter had to have stitches on her head. What sort of people are these who live so near civilisation? Why are they not behind bars?

This mob dragged the family outside and beat up even the two girls! The manager of D-mart and their security guards did not bother to come to the aid of the family. What a shame! If it wasn’t for three brave sardars who were shopping in the same market (they formed a cordon around the family) someone could have got killed! It’s shocking that even hours after the incident no one had been arrested.

There was another incident in the same area some months ago when a group of ten youths on bikes attacked a retired Brigadier (S C Sharma) in Navi Mumbai just because they were “angered at being ticked off by the victim’s wife for speeding’. Incidentally, after these bikers were arrested, hundreds of villagers gathered in support of the youths! I do know what has happened to the case now, but why should hundreds of people support those who assault a senior citizen? It’s scary!

I think this just shows how how vulnerable we all are. If we are relatively safe it is only because we are timidly holed up in our houses and don’t confront anybody! We are safe by default! If we actually spoke up against injustice we know what will happen to us. If we open our mouths, mobs could be out to get us, mob of hooligans, thieves and molesters!

Political parties are either involved or they protect
What else can one expect when political parties take up cudgels on behalf of accused? For example, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray “accompanied” the 14 accused in the Mumbai molestation case (where a mob molested two women) to meet Deputy Chief Minister R R Patil saying that the ‘real’ culprits should be caught. Whether these boys are innocent or not is not the business of any political party but we see too many instances of people in mobs being protected by political parties and all for political gains. Last evening on TV I heard a gentleman from the same party giving elaborate reasons as to why the boys were innocent. But what business is it of his? It’s police business! But he knows only too well that it is difficult to indict anybody in a large crowd.

Many times mobs are incited and/or controlled by political parties. There was the incident of cars and trains being torched in Mumbai (riots all over Maharashtra) because because a statue of B. R. Ambedkar (a native of Maharashtra) was damaged in far away Uttar Pradesh! This was suspected to be politically motivated and planned. I didn’t hear of anyone being arrested for the violence. In another incident, the President of the Hindu Rashtra Sena Dhananjay Jairam Desai was arrested for his alleged role in the attack on the Star TV office. But I am sure he is free now.

These kind of incidents embolden rioters. They feel it is their birthright to attack and terrorise people. Our government might as well tell them that committing crimes in a mob or in a big group is safe and legal so go ahead and do it!

And these groups, if not supported by the political parties, will get support from their own communities, their families, and their neighbours as has been seen in the D-mart incident. Why, this can happen to anyone! Suppose a man accidentally touches a girl, he could have have a murderous mob come at him, particularly if the girl has a whole village behind her! There will be no chance of proving himself innocent and god forbid if his family is with him!

We are all vulnerable
What happened to Chetty can happen to any person. Any one. Whether it’s because of errant driving or because a patient dies in hospital, there is always a chance that a mob will collect and people will take the law into their own hands. Prevalence of mob rule in society shows a breakdown of law and order. It is terrorism of the most terrifying kind. Because it’s by a herd of unknown anonymous people. It’s terrorism by the people.

Related Reading: Violent mobs should pay
The 2007 Gujjar riots and update of 2008
Docs in India often have to face irate mobs
Comparision of violent crime in the world
Too many policemen on VIP duty in India
Poor people to Police ratio in India
Riots in Maharashtra – Dalit violence in November 2006
Fake mob attack by political party

24 Comments leave one →
  1. Raj permalink
    January 16, 2008 8:58 am

    Nita,

    Indians are among the most cowardly people in the whole world.We do not believe in strength in numbers but cowardice in numbers.Thuggery,ruffianism and mob rule have become a part of our society.It reflects the sad state of our criminal justice system and ethical degradation of our society.Having said that,the goons and hooligans must realise what would happen if the victims of mob rule decide to take revenge on the society as a whole for targetting them.

    Hats off to the sardars for showing the cowards what bravery actually is!

  2. January 16, 2008 9:00 am

    I can’t believe I’m the first to comment! It must be early morning in India now.

    Do you think it’s a problem of class? Maybe the poorer classes are taking out their frustrations on those they perceive as midlle class or wealthy. I’m not justifying it, just wondering.

    It’s scary how the thugs worked together to beat up a family. It reminds me of gangs, although they usually fight each other, not “civilians.”

  3. January 16, 2008 9:10 am

    Raj, I think people are taking the law into their own hands and this is a hallmark of an uncivlized society and a complete break down of law and order. As you pointed out, it’s the criminal justice system of ours which is unsatisfactory but it is more than that. Goons and hooligans are ruling and the police don’t bother to round them up as they are afraid. When that brig was beaten up, the police had to try and explain to the villagers why they were arresting the miscreants! Why should they do that??
    Christine, it’s actually around nine a.m, not that early but I just posted this post. In any case not all of my posts get too many comments. Ofcourse poverty is a cause for many our ills and I have written about that in greater detail here. But it’s also due to the fact that we have hardly any policing on our streets! And a poor criminal justice system. Would a gang of poor dissatisfied people from the bad areas in London and New York be allowed to do this? they would be arrested immediately, and in any case they would fear being arrested.here no one is arrested, and if they are, then they get out soon enough!

  4. Raj permalink
    January 16, 2008 9:15 am

    Mariacristina,

    Sorry to have finished ahead of you in the photo-finish. Yes,sometimes it is a result of class frustration (due to overpopulation and uneven economic growth) but usually it is not.These gangs of goons are usually incited by criminal elements who know that they can get away in the melee.

  5. January 16, 2008 12:55 pm

    Nita, this subject is very close to my heart. It reminds me of a scene in Munna Bhai MBBS when mob starts beating the pickpocket after hr tries to pick Sunil Dutt’s purse. Sunil Dutt rescues him from the mob and says something like: Ye saare frustrated awaam hai..koi biwi se ladke aaya hai kisi ko boss ne daata hai…

    But this mobocracy phenomenon has escalated. Goons, political and individual, mingle in crowd with malicious intent. We can’t ignore it any further. They beat anybody from small time pick pockets to accused like Moninder Pandher or Uma Khurana who later turned out to be innocent. They molest women. It gives them an edge that mob has no face. Any politician guy can use mob for nefarious purposes.

    People dont realise that by taking law into their own hands they are jeopardising their own safety. They could be the next mob target for no good reason.

  6. BHANU permalink
    January 16, 2008 1:01 pm

    iN THIS MATTER , PRESS REPORTER WAS PRIME WITNESS AND TAKEN PHOTOGRAH . ON THIS MAIN EVIDENCE ACCUSED HAVE TO BE PROSIONED WITH RIGRIOUS PUNISHMENT SO THAT OTHER PEOPELE TAKE LESSON FROM.
    ON THIS EVIDENCE JUDICIARY HAVE NOT TO GIVE BAIL.IT IS JUDICIARY MISTAKE , WHICH IS SUSPITIBLE AS MAY BE UNDER PRESSURE FROM ANY POLITICAL PARTY. THEN ALL PEOPLE WILL DO CRIME IN GROUP, THEN NO ONE CAN BE PUNISHED, IT IS INDIA GOING IN RIGHT DIRECTION?

  7. January 16, 2008 1:33 pm

    Nita – this is scary, that viciousness arises like a fever through crowds, that people stop thinking for themselves and let a mob’s influence sweep them in a wave of inchoate and mindless emotional response.
    Crowds and their energy have always caused me deep discomfort; I am always aware that a “crowd mood” can be fanned into group response that can be negative and destructive. Here in the past decade has been an increase of young men travelling around and uleashing their fury and frustrations on innocent bystanders. Groups of young women have also begun to demonstrate this propensity as well. If these people are caught and charged, there are legal consequences for their actions, but in my opinion not severe enough to drive home the point that these kinds of violent behaviours are not condoned.
    There was the case of a young girl, Reena Virk, in Victoria, who was killed by actions of a group of youths. One girl has appealed and reappealed her conviction for her role in R eena Virk’s death and tied up the legal system for years.
    Surely, what you talked about here, of this family’s beating and injury by mob, must be a symptom of a society in extreme stress due to a complex of reasons. G

  8. January 16, 2008 2:11 pm

    good post..as usual🙂
    the genie of community or biradari is out of the box… and everyone is taking up umbrage or cudgels to keep their ‘own’ safe… while that is, in itself, dangerous it is aggravated by the fact that it seems that law and order does not deliver…
    i would really like to see a fast track court handling these kinds of incidences, and start sending people who break the law to prison…… without political interference…
    i would like to see the EC impose fines on parties that seem to have mobs associated with them..
    hit people where it hurts …. and they will follow the law…

  9. January 16, 2008 2:16 pm

    Its sad that its happening again, again and yet again. The last time I checked I was still in a free country.
    Now the goons and mobs just wait from reason to destroy public property or attack innocents.

    In most places in India, ppl love to thrash a vehicle owner if he is involved in an accident. They dont care whose mistake it is. There was an incident near my place in which a car and an auto collided and the ppl were thrashing the car driver. The truth is, the auto driver was at fault. Even if the car driver is at fault, I guess that doesnt give anyone the right to take law into their hands..

  10. January 16, 2008 2:55 pm

    I didn’t know about this incident! I don’t have anything new to add in this comment, except- Long Live Sardars😀 They’re the best.

  11. January 16, 2008 3:25 pm

    Poonam, thanks. This is a subject close to my heart too. Some of them are personal. I’ll tell you of just one incident. When Mahatma Gandhi was assasinated by a Maharashtrian Brahmin a huge mob came to burn our house in Sadashiv Peth Pune. There was everyone at home then, including women and children. Everyone was saved, and the house wasn’t burnt finally due to intervention (my grandfather was an ex-army man) but everyone (except for my grandfather!🙂 )lived in fear for many weeks.

    Bhanu, where this aspect is concerned I feel we are certainly not going in the right direction. We are going back to the dark ages.

    Suburban, yes there are complex reasons. But generally lumpen elements become part of crowds, that escalates the problem. And a total apathy of the police. btw, our courts don’t convict those who attack in mobs. no one comes forward to identity anybody in any case.

    Harini, everyone is trying to protect their own as you mentioned because no one has faith in the law. It’s time the government realise that law and order and security of citizens comes first, before anything else!

    Xylene, all of us are vulnerable and I think we should emulate the example of the sardars. Protect anyone we see being threatened by a mob.

    Ruhi, yep! Three cheers for those guys!

  12. January 16, 2008 7:07 pm

    It happens in England and America as well. I know of numerous incidents of mob attacks in many areas of the country. Many times it has racial and/or economic overtones and is often triggered by someone driving through a neighborhood.

    Other times, gangs will roam the streets or public transportation and rob and beat random people. In England, recent attacks on bus drivers have caused injuries as well.

    Poverty should not be used as an excuse, but neither should law enforcement turn a blind eye to these incidents. On the other hand, is there justice in the legal system for ordinary Indians?

  13. ulag permalink
    January 16, 2008 7:12 pm

    Its a really shocking incident. And it comes close on the heels of so many more such incidents in the recent past. I have to agree with Poonam on this. People are frustrated. They want an outlet for their frustration. These people may be literate. But they arent educated. Theres a serious lack of morals and ethics. These same thugs are employed by politicians for their dirty work during elections so when these people are arrested for such assaults the politicians come to their rescue. There is a serious need for proper education and inculcation of basic values in our country. Otherwise more such incidents will become the norm. Youve rightly said that were not safe anywhere except our own houses. In none of the cities can a woman walk safely without being hooted at or followed by some unruly people once in a while. Its a total breakdown of law and order which our nations politicians and police overlook. For them safety is about preventing terrorist strikes. Day to day basic security is ignored.
    Recently in Bangalore a married couple who were sitting on a park bench near their house were harassed by cops and taken to the police station. The couple were sitting there and only talking on their respective mobiles. But the cops hurled abuses at them and roughed them up. They were let off eventually when they made some calls. But this is the state of the police force. They let off molestors and trouble the innocent.
    What strikes me about the US is the amount of trust the people have in the police. There are regular police patrols and people feel safe to report almost anything to them or take their help. How many in India would do that? Here a woman doesnt go to a police station alone out of fear. If people dont trust the police force itself it shows how bad the system is. Our politicos debate the nuclear deals in the parliament with so much zest and energy but never have they discussed such basic social issues. Really sad.

  14. January 16, 2008 7:35 pm

    @ulag
    TOI reported today that the Sub Inspector is suspended for harassing the couple. I guess the law is taking its course, but then the offenders will find a loophole or will have ‘connections’ to get away with it.
    http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Cities/Bangalore/SI_suspended_for_harassing_couple/articleshow/2703427.cms

  15. wishtobeanon permalink
    January 16, 2008 8:02 pm

    I agree with what everyone else has said here. It is very depressing to hear such news. I wonder if mob violence is only increasing or is it that it is being reported more often? Our society needs to change drastically – how do we go about that when good people are powerless and do not get support?

  16. ulag permalink
    January 16, 2008 8:16 pm

    @ Xylene
    Yeah i saw that in the mornings paper. But how will it help? Incidents of harassment like this will force people to lose faith in the Police. A sub-inspector raped a girl in Mumbai a few years back. He was suspended too. But which incident leaves a deeper impression on the people? The act of harassment OR the act of suspending the errant cop.
    What im trying to say is when such incidents happen people lose faith in the system. The police must be taught during their training period that its of utmost importance to help the public and not to violate the law. This rule must be strictly inculcated. Sadly this is not so. Everyone in India knows that the police force is one of the most corrupt branches of the government.

  17. January 16, 2008 9:05 pm

    Brian I agree with you entirely that the economic factor cannot be an excuse. Actually I feel basically there is a lack of policing. There is absolutely no policing in India except in certain areas. And even in mumbai, th police are concentrated at certain spots. So if we are safe today I think it’s because the criminals have not decided to target us! As to whether there is justice for the ordinary Indian in India….well, there is. We have a free judiciary, but the only problem is that it is slow, very slow. Another thing, there is more justice if the offender is not connected politically or has money! But today with the media highlighting cases of injustice (where rich and influential people have got away with crime) it is possible to address these issues as well.

    Ulag, I had read about that incident about the married couple and there is no doubt that the police were looking for a bribe. Our police are more interested in looking for bribes rather than protecting citizens.

    Xylene, glad to hear that the police inspector is suspended. Hope it sends a message!

    wishtobeanon, the violence was always present but to my mind it’s increasing. you see, villages were always lawless, or rather villagers usually approach their own village to mete out justice and do not go to courts in any case and that is why you see some brutal punishments happening in rural India. It’s the city people who go to the courts mostly as they lack the community and strength of a whole people behind them. But now the urban rural population is getting all shaken up. But the issue is complicated, but if you ask me if the law and order situation has deteriorated, no doubt it has! Why, in our time there women used to walk around the city wearign heavy gold necklaces and there was no chain snatching! I have explained in one of my posts about how exposure to urbanisation increases crime. It’s a very complex issue which only a sociologist can answer with any confidence.

  18. January 16, 2008 10:54 pm

    Many of these people (if not all of them) are poorly trained in rationality and ethics. I doubt they would know what these words meant. These are the ripe constituents of a mob. An entity where people can forget that they have responsibilities as individuals. Where they feel free to vent their frustrations in animalistic actions…..
    Too horrifying to think how this country is infested by such people all over….
    Mera Bharat Mahaan!

  19. January 17, 2008 1:26 am

    Low lives, in every society resort to heinous acts when they can get away with it. What happened was bad, and we need to ensure justice prevails – amen on that.

    That above apart, mob mentality is hardly exclusive to India — It is not racist, it plagues every skin type. What happened in USA during hurricane Katrina ? Care to talk about the looting during the Tsunamis of SE Asia ? I do not proffer this as a justification, but more so a hard reality of life and all it’s nuanced parameters that influence & eventually result in these. Yes the periodicity of these happenning in India are way higher and we need to act on it, but..

    “Indians are among the most cowardly people in the whole world”, “India : Uncivilized Society”, “..no one has faith in the law..”, “villages have always been lawless” etc…

    Are we not generalizing a whole lot of things here in the comments ? The issue hits close to heart for many, but we, just like the mob — hurt by whatever, are resorting to laments and generalizations; rationality seems to elude the holier than thou “us” as well.

    The 300 odd people who were a party to this ought to be brought to justice, but since when has the actions of 300 people come to define the identity, sanity and civility of a billion Indians ? or, are we implicit to sensationalism ?

  20. Amit permalink
    January 17, 2008 4:30 am

    Just give them a Nano each. There might be an irrational mob-wallah inside, but from the outside, it’ll be India’s pride.😉🙂
    Ah, the many contradictions that is India.

  21. January 17, 2008 7:56 am

    Athreya, ofcourse you are right. One needs to always see all this in a rational objective way.

    Rdoc, while it’s true what you say, I wonder if even so-called rational and ethical people change once they are part of a mob? The real muck will always lead and loot, but will use rhetoric to incite other more rational people. And then base instinct take over1

    Amit,🙂

  22. Raj permalink
    January 17, 2008 11:49 am

    Athreya,

    While I agree with you that generalisation is a bad thing,what people do when they generalise things is to highlight the collective degradation of ethics in society.Mobs need not always be used for criminal purposes as Gandhi and others have shown.

    Amit,

    While I know that your comment was written in a light-hearted manner,you have tried to make your point as a Nano-basher.

    So as a Nano lover,I will try to make my point.Thugs and goons and criminals hardly ever use cars like the little Nano.They are more likely to use fuel guzzling,fume spewing SUVs and MUVs that are as nasty as themselves 🙂

  23. January 17, 2008 12:46 pm

    Your grandfather must have been a courageous man.

    But this is so absurd, just because a Godse killed Bapu, people will try to find more Godse’s. They will harass innocent people and then more Godse’s will be created out of their trauma. Idiots! We have loads of them in this country.😦

  24. January 21, 2008 2:05 am

    This can be the overreaction of lower classes thinking that the upper classes are trying to take them for granted.

    and once a mob gets into picture it has no rationale, no reasoning, no time to understand the situation, it just does the most basic things like beating or molesting people blindly.

    The saddest example of this is the Ganesh Visarjan at Chowpatty where millions throng to see the beautiful festival, but is marred with cheap mob trying to take advantage of female groups. And all this under the god’s eyes. Its sad.

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