Monday, October 03, 2011

Uneasy villagers

Strange things are happening in little towns and villages away from the capital. Some incident or the other leads to a mob attack on a government institution, usually a police station. The latest was in Dompe.

There was a spate of attacks over fears of a Grease Yakka (or Grease Devil) over a period of about two months. It sounded a lot like mass hysteria and it ended shortly after reprisals by the military.

Was this anything more than hysteria? It is difficult to tell, but a couple of things are clear: a) the people don't trust the authorities, b) they are turning to vigilante violence as a 'solution'.

There are enough cases of mass hysteria, from UFO sightings to the El Chupacabra in Mexico, but while people in these instances tend to distrust the government turning to violence is unusual.

What do these incidents tell us? People do not see the authorities as being able to solve their problems, in some instances the authorities are the problem and the anger boils over into violence.

The culture of impunity that has been nurtured during the last few years must take much of the blame for this state of affairs. In order to boost morale, the political leadership showed a willingness to back the military, unquestioned. Extraordinary powers were necessary for extraordinary circumstances so oversight was unnecessary and political 'cover' was provided if anything blew up. The result? Deaths in custody soared.

As long as these were confined to the minorities and happened in areas with little access to the media, these went either unreported or could be easily denied. However as the new culture began to take root, it spread to other areas.

To recall a few incidents, just off the top of my head, two boys were killed in custody Angulana, a man was drowned by police and most recently, a worker was killed during a protest.

The reaction of the authorities is usually to deny that the event took place and if denial becomes impossible either to cover it up make some token changes. Nobody seems to want to ask why the problem keeps recurring.

In any case, following a spate of attacks on the media, few have the appetite to ask hard questions. The Dompe incident was given little publicity until a few days after the event when some newspapers ran feature articles on it. It should have been front page news the day it happened.

The recent conviction of the policemen responsible for the Angulana murder is the first action we have seen, so it any wonder that people take to vigilante violence?


There was another death in custody this week. When the spokesman was asked about it he had replied "“you must remember that they are criminals and there is a limit to the protection we could provide." How a suspect could become a criminal and if so whether the judiciary is really necessary are thoughts that have never crossed their minds. The story end with the following:

Meanwhile the Free Media Movement (FMM) said that police have erased a video tape of journalist Indika Sri Aravinda who interviewed the victim's family at the police station.

The MCNS head said, "if journalists behave in a manner that obstructs police duty, they are compelled to take legal action".

Some ideas on reforming the police are available here.


Cadence said...

Agree with u on the 'hard question reluctance'

With attacks on the media so rampant, it's human nature I guess to think twice.

After so many instances where things have ended with the police in the wrong, you can't blame the people for not having any faith in the authorities either. Sad.

Patta Pal said...

You have hit on a very big issue, especially as it concerns villagers. As you know the Police are the Kings in rural areas holding fort like they own the place and are involved in all the law breaking activities typical of those areas such as distilling moonshine, cutting down trees and transporting wood, unearthing items of ancient historic importance, cattle rustling, killing game just to name a few that come to mind.

It is important that this culture is changed and a new more law abiding culture replace this. Otherwise we will see more of this and finally a period of lawlessness.

Is the latter what the government want, another excuse for draconian measures!