Over the last few years, newspaper headlines and TV debates have been dominated by increasingly bigoted remarks by politicians. Given their stature, this is understandable. India is no stranger to politically organised mob violence, but it has historically been a covert activity with leading politicians trotting out incredible-to-believe stories of how they just managed to be there when the mob assembled, and that they were ‘misquoted’. So, the interest, and horror, is understandable.
Nevertheless, what it obscures is the main actors in the violence that follows; the faces in the mob become one hateful whole, driven by mad passions that we are unwilling to understand or examine.
The press and their readers contribute to this obscuring. From our place of privilege and comfort, we never ask the key question: how is it that so many young men are willing to take part in such heinous activities time and again? With signals of support from the very top, we understand they have much to gain, but don’t they have anything to lose? And why is this anger so easy to tap? What is driving it?
We accept, without question, that the hinterland is a tinderbox; that people like Ajay Bisht — better known as Yogi Adityanath — are popular because of the bigotry and hatred they espouse; and in the process, ignore the distress and hopelessness of those that such people count as their followers. In this, we ignore the agency of the people involved, and the narrow scope of their choices.
Speaking of eastern Uttar Pradesh alone — although this is a problem of far wider scope — there has been a radical narrowing of opportunities for the urban aspiring young men. That the agricultural sector has been in distress for decades is not new knowledge if the many protests and suicides had not already brought it to our notice. For those looking for dignified jobs in the agriculture-allied sector, there are just too few available.
What does that leave us with? We spent greatly on education in the first few decades of our existence, and created a number of colleges and universities (and jobs associated with them). Many of these are now in distress with very few job opportunities thereafter.
There are, of course, the government jobs. But the public sector can only employ a few. That leaves the private sector, which is deeply underdeveloped. If your family has a small shop or business, you have a leg up, but most people do not have that option.
What this leaves is millions of possibly educated young men with little in their hands, and little offer of hope in the future. They see their lives as ones of worthlessness with no clean way to better themselves.
Taking part in violence that may — if they get noticed — get them a leg up in some political party and therefore get a share of the ‘spoils’ — maybe a job, and which may also teach ‘others’ ‘their place’, is not an unattractive prospect. Does that make them bad people, especially if there are no other realistic options of escaping a life of intense frustration?
Is a chance at dignity that great a crime?
At the cost of somebody else’s life, yes, of course, yes. And for the dedicated criminal and violent thug, maybe the only answer is jail, but given that we have rewarded so many of these with a life in politics, there is a great incentive to be part of it.
Omair Ahmad is a political analyst, journalist and managing editor (South Asia).
Updated Date: Dec 22, 2018 15:47:56 IST