News channels were baying for the blood of bystanders who were called “mute spectators”

Can we stop the mute spectator rant every time videos of crime emerge
Voices Caste Tuesday, March 15, 2016 - 08:22

Every time videos of crimes taking place in full public view emerge, the focus soon shifts to the crowd that stood and watched. Questions are raised then about how the public did nothing to stop the crime from being perpetrated or help the victim. The same discourse has started, yet again, after CCTV video footage of a 22-year-old being hacked to death in Tirupur, Tamil Nadu, emerged. 

On Sunday, Sankar was attacked with sickle-wielding men. Soon, news channels were baying for the blood of bystanders who were called “mute spectators” and blamed for not intervening to save the young man’s life.

Some of the media pontificated that public apathy is on the rise, especially in urban India, but this is outrage that comes from the comfort and safety of newsrooms.

These diatribes are far removed from ground reality where it might not be that easy and prudent to intervene when we witness an assault. 

Witnessing violence with weapons, especially instruments with sharp blades, is very different from the movies where we see super-heroes rise to the occasion and save the day by wrestling the goons and helping those in distress. 

Firstly, when we witness brutality, we could be in a state of shock where our decision-making faculties might not be optimal. Our response also depends on the kind of violence we witness, the number of people involved. Seeing a gang of men wielding weapons like machetes or sickles, is not the same as when sticks are the weapons of choice.

Regardless of the weapon involved, we tend to fear for our personal safety first. But generally, we are also aware that the police grill witnesses to get as much as they can squeeze out, operating on the premise that information is always withheld unless force of some nature is applied. One can imagine what the repercussions will be if you intervene and become part of the incident. The fear of being hounded then by not just the police but possibly even the goons you are taking on will be enough to deter most from interfering. 

In this particular case, the violence was the culmination of two circumstances.

First, the perpetuation of caste supremacies and hierarchies by individuals, the larger society, caste groups and also politicians. Each category of people has its own reasons and motivations to abide by various caste rules; the latter two often use caste to perpetuate hierarchies and commit violence.

Second, the failure of the police to control anti-social elements, who may have been roped in to carry out violence. Sometimes, in cases of inter-cate couples, it is the relatives of the couple who themselves commit violence. But often, it is people associated with particular groups which believe in perpetuating caste hierarchies, who commit violence. It is the duty of state police intelligence officials and the police to keep track of such people and groups and ensure that they do not violate the law.

Instead of even attempting to identify the probable causes for violence and the circumstances that make it possible for such acts to be committed, the media is merely looking to find the easiest bakra to blame.

Yes, people are capable of extraordinary acts of courage, of putting their personal safety above others, but not everyone is capable of doing it. But more importantly, we shouldn’t not lose sight of the fact that people are not supposed to be hacked to death. For any reason.

Instead of attempting to improve the structure of the society we live in, the media often just try to use Fevi-Kwik to meet their newsroom deadlines, ad targets and kill the competition.

Also Read:

Dalit hacking: Sankar and Kausalya's story shows the horrors of inter-caste marriage in TN

A brave woman who gave strength to her shy husband, how Kausalya fell in love with Sankaran

Why do we always ask the wrong questions when caste consumes a Dalit's life?

The stony silence around Kausalya: Injured wife of hacked Dalit man left to fend for herself

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