And so, Delhi burns.
High time it did too, no?
After all, over two months have passed since the CAA was enacted and the anti-CAA sit-down protest began in Shaheen Bagh, December 15th 2019.
Two months…with not even one decent-sized communal riot to reward the sincere and strenuous efforts that have been made by political parties Left and Right, along with their captive journalists and intellectuals, to spark off riots.
Oh sure, a few score Delhi Police personnel—men and women—have been beaten up or pelted into coma with stones or stabbed or shot from time to time. But then they don’t count…who cares about cops, right?
[Aside: is attacking police personnel considered ‘Secular’ or ‘Communal’ violence?]
But now at last, on 25th February 2020, hope blazes in our hearts, like the fires blazing in North-East Delhi.
Hope, that for the first time since Gujarat 2002, we can all get to watch real-time large-scale Communal Riots on Prime Time.
For the looming Riots, we must thank our beloved political leaders who always have the strengthening of Human Riots uppermost in their minds – like Kapil Mishra of BJP and Waris Pathan of AIMIM.
And unlike in the primitive days of Gujarat 2002, when people didn’t even have mobile phones (imagine that! How Jurassic!) we can not only follow the Riots as they unfold but safely participate in the Mobs, too! Thanks to Social Media.
We can create and spread poisonous rumours, we can ignite murderous rage, at the speed of electrons, without messing up our hands with blood and gore …yucccckkk. And without any danger of getting caught by the police, either…assuming there are any police left to catch us, of course…Ha Ha Ha.
Hail the glory of WhatsApp! Oh, the joyous anonymity of end-to-end encryption!
And hail the wondrous power of Instagram too! Don’t you just love those multi-media Instagram ‘Stories’ that self-destruct within 20 seconds so there’s no evidence left? Stories that you and I can create and forward to spread the most unspeakably violent videos and messages, the most cruel propaganda, secure in the knowledge that in less than half a minute the Stories will vanish with nothing to show the stories ever passed through or even existed in our phones? Or in anyone else’s phones?
Forgive the flippancy, gentle reader…but the situation today merits graveyard humour.
Because the danger is real…especially to the ‘young’ who more or less live in the virtual worlds of their mobile phones and Social Media.
Because Social Media does give each one of us the wild, untrammeled irresponsibility of the Mob member.
And Mobs are frightful.
The very nature of a Mob can transform us, however rational we might think we are, whatever be our social and economic status, into creatures capable of terrible violence.
A Mob offers anonymity and provides a feeling of security by its sheer numbers. It removes our sense of individual responsibility, and thereby dismantles the elaborate codes of ethics and morality that govern ‘normal’ conduct.
Nobel Laureate Elias Canetti viewed the Mob as a ‘biological entity’, something qualitatively different from the simple sum of its parts. His description of how a quiet street-corner gathering develops into a violent Mob is chillingly familiar. [quote from a 2002 edit-page article I wrote on Gujarat riots ]
“Nothing has been announced, nothing is expected, but suddenly the street is transformed. Windows are thrown open, people come out of doors and alleys — streaming in from all sides as though streets had only one direction. At first the only noticeable property of this composite creature is its urge to grow. It wants to seize everyone within reach. Anything shaped like a human can join it. It knows no limits and admits of no restrictions. It does not recognize houses, doors or locks, and those who try to shut themselves in or deny its hunger are immediately suspect…
‘‘As long as the crowd is growing, it feels secure. But as soon as growth becomes restricted, as soon as it runs out of its natural food, it gets irritable and develops a sense of persecution. It becomes hostile and then it starts to break things. Windows of shops and houses, windscreens of cars are the first to go because they provide such a satisfying sound. Doors, gates and fences, anything that represents a boundary, become the next target and are torn down and trampled underfoot.
And finally comes fire. Of all methods of destruction, this is the most impressive. It can be seen from far off and attracts even more people. It destroys irrevocably; nothing is the same after a fire. A crowd setting fire to something feels irresistible. It is. The quiet evening street is now a district in riot, an environment inhabited by an organism that is out of control…”
The rioting Mobs of Delhi 1984, of Bombay 1992-93, of Gujarat 2002, left thousands dead, tens of thousands maimed, and a nation in despair. But who were the Mob members? Who were those tens of thousands who pelted stones and firebombs, who fell upon their fellow Indians and beat them, molested them, raped them, killed them?
Within hours, within a day or two, they were all back to their ‘normal’ selves — lawyers and laundry-owners, teachers and traders, students and shopkeepers, professors and paan vendors, bankers and businessmen, writers and rickshaw pullers. Nice ‘respectable’ people, young and old.
People just like us. Their faces are our faces.
And what of the evil men and women who sowed the seeds of the Mobs, who broke the reservoirs of violence with whispered rumours and words of poison?
They vanished without trace, as they always do.
As have vanished the evil men and women who planted the seeds of communal violence in Shaheen Bagh.
And so Delhi burns…