Fans as mobs, mobs as fans
The cult of aggression has two sides: one, that provides fire in the belly to winning teams and their supporters; two, that turns ugly when things go awry in and outside the sporting arena, writes Nandita Sengupta.india Updated: Sep 26, 2007 01:29 IST
Was it only six months ago in March that MS Dhoni’s house in Ranchi was attacked by a mob because he had disappointed them by his performance against Bangladesh in the World Cup? Yes, it was.
Today he’s God, and the adulation has the distinct marks of a mob attack as well. When a newspaper carried a photograph of the father of the Pathan brothers praying before the Twenty20 final, I knew he had good reason to. If things went ‘wrong’, one could never tell what form public fury might take against both his sons.
Flamboyant aggression is the mark of our new Twenty20 team. But is there anything remotely disturbing about our unbridled endorsement of such aggression, even if it’s channelised to a win? Are we mature enough to contain it within the game? If the body language of the boys was violent, surely, it was a show of strength, nothing more. Will galli cricket not pick up this new style as easily as a duck takes to water? It will. Because we’re increasingly enjoying being aggressive.
Going back to the fans. It’s the same billion that has found a zillion reasons in the last year to attack fellow citizens in vengeance. Mob attacks have been rampant — or, at least, they’ve been reported at a much greater frequency than in the past. The media have been valiantly and repeatedly telecasting, reporting, commenting, analysing why mob rage seems to be turning into the norm rather than the exception. The lament usually dies out with the realisation that we don’t have laws for mobs, to deter or to punish. It’s the fault of the ‘System’. And the preamble to any solution stops right there.
The fact is, though, that we are increasingly intolerant of much of everything. The line that separates an unruly mob from a police force that is ill-equipped and, at times, even endorses mob behaviour is thin and porous. The mob knows this and this knowledge empowers it. Yet, somewhere down the line, it isn’t just about how we behave in a mob, but also our basic acceptance of violence and injustice that seems to add fuel to all fires. Whether that violence is in response to injustice is not an issue. What is, is the existence of an inalienable, fundamental right to be violent.
Look at our parliamentarians. We’ve moaned on and on about what parliamentary behaviour should be. Look at our lawyers. Recall how the accused in the Priyadarshini Mattoo case, Santosh Singh, was attacked in the court premises by lawyers. Look at our police. Think of the extent of their hatred that they junked the bodies of the ten men killed by a mob in Bihar and pocketed the State funds meant for their last rites.
At the individual level, we feel empowered when we are violent. We give each other the right to be abusive. How else do we explain women’s tolerance of domestic abuse in urban clusters? A recent survey conducted by Lady Hardinge Medical College in Delhi found that 58 per cent of women between 15 and 49 years justified wife-beatings by men.
Earlier, the National Family Health Survey had reported that 40 per cent of women across India feel that it’s perfectly all right for a man to beat his wife. Corporal punishment has been banned in schools, yet the murmurs continue that an occasional hiding is in keeping with enforcing disciplinary action.
This kind of reasoning stumps any pretence to progressive thinking, of non-violence and of ‘firm handling’. How do we explain the murder of foetuses and girl infants? We seem to accept violence in the same manner that we ‘expect’ injustice in our country. We’re grappling with road rage and we’ll continue to grapple with it because we’re on a short fuse and we’re quite okay with that. Call me a cynic, but even I didn’t expect such a short stint for Gandhigiri.
In 21st century India, we’re talking a lot about empowerment. It’s a kind of lofty ideal when we are so ill-equipped to behave in a civilised manner without a strong law and order mechanism in place. Frenzy over cricket is a celebrated virtue. Had we lost, who would have stopped any attack on any cricketer’s home? Ah, but this is our beautiful India. Sooner, or later, we will get inured to mob attacks the same way we are to terror attacks.
The Twenty20 team embodies all that we want India to be. But we won't win all the matches. It won't be a cohesive team all the time. I, for one, am scared that if there's no victory, where will we send all that aggression packing?