Of mobs and herds

This is an anecdote narrated to me by my friend several years ago. But it has stayed with me for what it taught me.

My friend was on her way to school with her sister on her two-wheeler that morning. She stopped at the traffic signal at Ajni Square in Nagpur. It was a busy Monday morning. There was lots of traffic and people were in a hurry to get to work. She was standing on the left side of the road, right at the front of the traffic close to the yellow line, waiting for the lights to turn from red to amber. Lines of trucks waited at Ajni square that morning.

Just next to her, she saw another school girl in a uniform. She was on a gleaming Scooty and looked very excited. My friend noticed that the Scooty was new. It had a temporary registration sticker. She smiled at her and the girl smiled back.

As the lights turned amber, my friend noticed that instead of driving straight, the school girl turned her vehicle to the right. Without any indication or warning. A truck laden with heavy goods was on her right side. Moments later, she was crushed under the truck. The truck driver had no chance to react. It was a horrific accident that happened right before my friend’s eyes.

There was chaos at the traffic signal. A crowd of people gathered there. Some people pulled out the truck driver and began bashing him up. My friend says she wanted to scream and say that it wasn’t his fault at all. But when does a mob listen? Within minutes the news spread to some of the slums adjacent to that area. More people rushed in. The girl was dead. Nothing could be done. But the driver continued to be thrashed.

Then suddenly my friend noticed, a man in the crowd open the fuel tank of the truck and tie a rag around a stick. He was about to burn the truck. My friend’s sister dragged her out of the scene and they got to safety. We don’t know what happened to the driver.

This is one kind of violent reaction triggered by an incident which shocks us. Emotions are upped. Hormones go haywire. And logic flies out of the window. Herd mentality led by one or two mad men erupts to spontaneously flare up the scene. And then there are others like we see in Bengal. Mobs attacking doctors doing their job.

Yes, one might get angry, one might fly into a rage. But I don’t believe people have time to leave their jobs, organize mobs and burn buildings or assault a particular profession or people. Unless they are triggered by ulterior motives. Why, everyday, our phones are flooded with messages talking about assault and mob lynching. We don’t even feel the need to react as we swipe left. So much that we don’t even feel shocked or outraged by such episodes. It has become part of normal.

So what instigates normal people to become mobsters? Surely, any sane normal person will not resort to this kind of violence. What are the triggers? Who benefits from instigating mobs? Who benefits from driving a chasm between communities? Definitely not the normal man on the street who has a tough time even earning for his daily meal. The answers to these questions are so obvious. And yet, we refuse to see the sinister design behind all these events.

We are the blind herd who can so easily be manipulated. To demonstrate outrage, to burn our innards with rage, to vote for or against someone and to spill venom in a jiffy. Without complete understanding of an event, you turn into just another cog in this ugly machine which has been created to spill hate.

We are being used. And unless we bother to see who is behind all this anger and hate, we will continue to be manipulated. The politics behind hate is obvious. Can we ever look behind those masks?

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