Twenty-year old Thasni Basheer is dead, mowed down by a jeep in the reputed College of Engineering in Thiruvananthapuram (CET) in Kerala. In addition to killing Thasni either by accident or out of sheer callousness, Baiju, the main accused and his friends disregarded a 2002 ban on vehicles on the campus as they drove around in the killer jeep.
In an interview to The News Minute, the Kerala Director General of Police (DGP) TP Senkumar pinned the blame on films like the recent super-hit Premam.
“Why are all these boys dressed like the hero in the movie? Today, even in protests by leftist organisations, you hardly see students wearing dhotis. They opt for pants now. Look at their mannerisms, they were jumping up and down in the jeep,” DGP Senkumar said.
That is a long trot – linking a mishap to changes in dressing habits. The moot question is elsewhere. Does violence on reel translate to the real thing? Before we address that, a word about the killer jeep.
It has a personality best described by the axe, shovel and hook added to it by successive batches of students. According to the Malayalam Manorama, the jeep was taken care of by the Student Federation of India (SFI) in the men’s hostel. Members of the student body affiliated to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) allegedly used it to ferry reinforcements to CET – “weapons” and students from other colleges – when there were clashes on campus.
And now to the point whether television, films, internet and video games lull people into accepting acts of violence and even committing them. The debate about this issue is a raging one and is divisive. There are studies that show no links and others that show that long exposure to violent films is a risk factor among children and adolescents.
There is a third body of evidence suggesting that people pre-disposed to violence in their daily lives can be primed by violent films and internet games to commit crimes. Using scanners to look into brain functions of volunteers watching bloody films, scientists and researchers say that the viewer’s brain function responds to violence depending upon whether the individual is aggressive by nature.
Today a child can create a virtual “bad” street with bad people, doing terrible things and “play” there for hours.
Underlying all these are studies that say in addition to exposure to violence, the socio-economic conditions of the person and family situation go a long way in contributing to gratuitous violence on the streets and inside homes. Yet another factor is the anonymity of committing violence as part of a group or mob (comparable to anonymous trolls on Twitter turning to abuse) against a helpless by-stander with the possibility of getting away being larger than that of being caught.
Did Baiju think he was Premam’s Nivin Pauly, the college toughie oozing machismo? Violent films are run away hits world wide – why are some societies more violent than others? How was Scotland able to pass gun control laws almost overnight following the 1996 Dunblane school massacre which killed 16 children while the United States struggles to do so? Researchers, psychiatrists, sociologists and other experts will find answers to these questions. Meanwhile, DGP Senkumar has work to do. There were eyewitnesses to Thasni’s death including people riding on the jeep when the mowing occurred. The guilty must be brought to book, swiftly and without any Premam.