Thursday, 12 July 2018

Facing up to the scary truth

Some ghastly incidents in the last few weeks, one in Thailand, the others in Assam, and some sobering conclusions that we can draw from them...[with thanks to Bodhisattva Sarma for some of the inputs and for goading me on to write]

Incident 1:

Friday the 8th June 2018, Guwahati: Two young Assamese men, Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Nath in their early 30s were beaten to death by a mob on Friday after they were mistaken for child kidnappers in Assam's Karbi Anglong, police said. The two friends who were back home in Guwhati on holiday, had gone on an excursion to a scenic waterfall in the area when the incident happened. One was a sound engineer from Mumbai, the other a musician living in Goa. While the lynching was on, some, including a policeman, were seen filming the whole episode with their smart phones to upload on social media.

While these videos have helped to nab the culprits and many arrests have been made so far but this brutal killing has captured the emotions of the Assamese people. There was huge public outcry after the incident; most of it still ongoing, driven mostly by social media, and the friends and family of the two young men who were very kind and mild, and very well-loved. The FB site Justice for Nilotpal and Abhijit has 197,901 members till date. The public outpouring of grief and indignation is very laudable but it somehow also borders on mass-hysteria -- becoming an end in itself -- a celebration of protest.

Many have tried to give this incident an Assamese-Karbi angle. Others have talked about how social media is abetting such incidents by helping spread false rumours about child lifters creating fear and unnecessary panic among the residents of the area. Many have spoken about the growing herd mentality of our people leading to mass hysteria. Yet others of the superstitions and beliefs still existing in our society that add to the suspicion and mistrust that seems to be growing everywhere. The role of the media in hardening us to these stories or to even make them seem the rule rather than the exception but repeatedly showing those gory scenes on television has been questioned by many.

Every point above is true and deserves serious attention, but the bottom line is -- two promising young innocent lives were lost.

Incident 2:

Saturday 23 June 2018, Northern Thailand: Twelve boys and their coach go into the Tham Luang Nang Non cave network in the Doi Nang Non mountain range in northern Thailand after football practice. A search party finds bicycles locked to a fence and shoes and football boots belonging to the boys close to the entrance.
Monday 2 July, 2018:  Nine days later the 12 boys and their coach are found alive and safe about 400 metres further along from the elevated area known as Pattaya Beach, sheltering on a ledge surrounded by water, more than a mile from the main entrance. They say they are hungry and ask what day it is.

Tuesday 10th July 2018: The boys of the Wild Boar football team were brought out in three daring rescue operations starting on Sunday morning and ending on Tuesday. An elite team of 19 divers were involved in ferrying the boys and their 25-year-old coach the approximately 3.2km path from the muddy slope where they had been sheltering to the outside world.
One member of the rescue team lost his life during the operation, but everyone else is safe and all the 13  trapped inside the cave have been successfully rescued.  
The fate of the missing football team, their miraculous discovery nine days later ending with the successful rescue operations have captured the world's attention. While the rescue operation was on, the family members of the missing boys did not lose their heads, nor did they give up hope – they prayed and remained disciplined, allowing the rescue workers to do their job as fast as they could. Meanwhile an international group of rescuers and divers came together to assist the local teams.  The success of this very complex rescue operation has given the Thai people a sense of national pride and satisfaction.
While trapped inside the cave for the first 9 days till they were found, the coach named Ekapol helped them the 12 boys aged 11-16 to meditate and to remain calm. The coach who is a refugee was orphaned at the age of 10; unable to sustain himself he joined a monastery at age 12 and trained to become a monk and lived there for another ten years. Two years ago he left the monastery to take care of his ailing grandmother and also became an assistant coach in that football club. One of the first acts of the coach Ekapol was to apologize to all the parents personally and individually for putting their children's lives in grave danger. And all the parents have forgiven him happily.
Three of the kids are also refugees like the coach and are stateless, moving between the border of Burma and Thailand. One of them is very good in his studies, and stands first in class. In fact he needs to do well if he has to keep the scholarship that the state gives to the first boy, otherwise he would not be able to attend school. When asked how these boys remained calm through that entire period till they were discovered, the brutal answer is, because they have been through worse in their lives before. And their lives, had not all this happened, would not have been any easier.  But now, because of the international attention that this incident has evoked, the boys and their coach might have a chance for a better life in the future, thanks to the many people and organizations who have come forward to help them.
Incident 3:
GUWAHATI, July 11, 2018: The body of a 20 year old girl,  Radha Kumari, was found in a toilet of a coach of the Dibrugarh-Rangiya Kamakhya Express when it reached Simaluguri junction yesterday. Radha Kumari lost her father when she was very young. Her mother is an ayah at a school. She got very good marks in her HS exam, and was a 5th semester student of the Assam Agricultural University. She took the early morning train from Sibsagar to Jorhat, 18 minutes journey. Someone followed her to the toilet. She resisted, was brutally killed.
Today, a day after a girl student of Assam Agricultural University was found murdered inside the toilet of the Dibrugarh-Rangiya Express train at the Simaluguri station in Sivasagar district, a body of a woman was today recovered inside the Avadh-Assam train at the Mariani railway junction under Titabar sub-division of the district.  The woman's body was found in a semi-clad state with a gamosa tied to her neck inside the toilet of the disabled bogey of Dibrugarh-Lalgarh Avadh-Assam train at around 2.15pm. The woman is suspected to have been murdered by strangulation.

NALBARI, July 11, 2018 - A tense situation prevails in the Ghorathal area of Nalbari district following the brutal killing of a person at a marriage party last night.The marriage venue saw violence over bursting of crackers, resulting in the death of a villager, identified as Jatin Das. The 35-year-old daily wage labourer asked the wedding revellers to stop bursting fireworks after splinters hit him. This angered the revelling youths who attacked Das with sticks beating him brutally. It led to his death on the spot.

In comparison to the reaction after the first incident, these latest incidents have not aroused so much public reaction. Perhaps it is too early to judge. They still have no clue who the culprit or culprits were. Perhaps one is just exhausted with having to protest so much, all the time. It is also the final leg of the Football World Cup in Russia -- people have other happier things to do and talk about. Perhaps the distance from Guwahati also counts -- the most recent incidents happened away from the capital. Perhaps it also matters who the parents are -- Radha's mother is just a poor uneducated maid, Nilotpal and Abhijeet's parents are reasonably well off middle class educated people like most of us who are protesting with them. 

But again here, as in the first incident, the bottom line is: three innocent lives were lost for no obvious reason.

The first question to ask is, where was the Police and the Railway Police? Is there no security on our trains? Is security too much to ask? In the first incident, apparently the Deputy Commissioner of the District had queried whether the two boys had taken permission from the district administration to go on that excursion! Is this what we can expect from those who are supposed to be in charge of  maintaining law and order and of our security? 

The police seems to exist only to protect the VIPs and the politicians, and not to ensure the safety and security of  the ordinary person. The fact that ordinary people are increasingly daring to violate or ignore the law  or to take the law into their hands could also mean that the common man has lost faith in the system, either to protect him or to deliver justice.  But India is supposedly a bright shining superpower, not a failed state -- how then do we explain all this?

It is time to take a closer look at the security apparatus, the law and order enforcement agencies and also at the judiciary. To restore faith in the system we must have a police force that is well trained and effective, that feels responsible and also accountable for public safety, and also one that is well paid and hence  incorruptible and as a consequence there for everyone, not just for a select few who can pay or who are in power. 

But even if everything else is wrong around us, what excuse do we have for our own behaviour? And the second question to ask is: what is wrong with our society, especially with our men? Why have we become so violent, so aggressive, so irrational, so ready to kill? In the first incident it was a mob, in the latest incidents was perhaps the doing of a single person; in both cases our civil society, our system of law and order, our values, our instincts and our humanity failed the victims. Today they are dead. Tomorrow it could be one of us. Either being killed or killing, or taking a video while a person is being beaten to death to upload on Whatsapp!  Since when has killing become fun? What is the matter with us? Are we bloody crazy? Have we gone completely beserk? Are we beyond redemption?

Finally, about the second incident, my only question is, would such a successful search and rescue operation be possible in India, in Assam? Even if we would have got all the international help would we have had the discipline, the patience and the know-how to carry out such a complicated manoeuvre?  Perhaps yes, if the army would have been entrusted with the task. But would our parents have behaved as those in Thailand? Would they have simply waited without creating any big drama and let the army do their job? Would they have simply prayed and not lost faith? Would they be so forgiving of the coach? And what about our politicians and others -- would they have not intervened and tried to make political capital of the whole accident? And lastly what about our kids? Would they have survived 9 days in a dark cave without food and water and listened to the coach asking them to meditate and remain calm? 

We shall never know but I feel that something has happened to us Assamese in recent times, both in the way we behave as individuals as well as in the way we tick as a people.  And I really mean 'recent' -- even a few years ago things were very different. Such incidents rarely happened in Assam and when they happened elsewhere, we were shocked and indignant. I still remember how self-righteously we Assamese reacted when the news of the 2012 Delhi gang rape, and also much later the Dimapur lynching of March 5th 2015, reached us -- 'Those crazy north Indians/Nagas taking the law into their hands and lynching people, we civilised Assamese would never behave like that!' And look at us today -- there is news of rapes and lynchings in Assam almost on a daily basis. What has changed in us then in the last couple of years? [Let us not try to exonerate ourselves with the fact that the mob that killed Nilotpal and Abhijeet were Karbi  -- let us not fool ourselves -- that fact is just incidental.] We seem to have lost the basic traits of gentleness, kindness and generosity that we were earlier known for. Perhaps we never had them but from where did we acquire this new found depravity and this total lack of humanity that we can just kill in a crazed frenzy or to feed our passion or even just for fun? 

And while we are very strong and proactive when we are in a group and can kill as surely as we can condemn the killing, as individuals, each of us, we lack something -- perhaps we lack character, in that we do not know our minds, in that we do not know how we would behave if we were alone. We are ready to do what everyone else around us is doing -- killing, crying, protesting, joining candle-light marches, organising demonstrations, showing solidarity, but how many of us have anything anywhere close to the strength of character of that Thai football coach, trapped in that cave with the dozen young boys? How many of us would have had the inner reserves to not only keep one's own self calm but also to keep the others around us from panicing in the face of such imminent danger? How many of us would have gone hungry and given up our share to the kids? How many of us would have had the courage to own up to the mistake he has made and say sorry to the parents?

The system is rotten and rotting away no doubt, but unless we face up to the fact that we are equally stinking rotten ourselves, nothing will change. This game of passing the buck of responsibility and accountability has to stop. For each of us is responsible in some way. While asking the system and others to change we also have to look inside us and make sure that there is not some insane serial killer, a sadist rapist or a  lustful depraved animal lurking in some corner within us. And if there is then we have to expel it from within us and banish it to someplace far away forever. That would be the first step...From there to reach that level of composure and humanity of the Thai coach Ekapol is a long journey... but do we have the humility, and the inner resources to even begin? Do we have the courage to accept that we too are responsible and that there is something that we, each one of us, need to do to get our society and the system back on track? Till we are ready to do so there is no point being surprised at rapid increase of rapes, lynchings, killings, and the like in our hitherto relatively peaceful corner of the world.

For a very tough analysis of the first incident, see


  1. Thanks, Meenaxi. This had to be put on record. The times seem so strange.
    You have unmasked the entire scenario.

    1. Thanks, Bodhi, both for the inputs and for the very insightful discussion yesterday. It helped me very much to clear my thoughts and convinced me that I should write them down, for whatever they are worth.

  2. Thanks to you and Bodhisattva. Its translation to Assamese is necessary.

    1. May I kindly know who this is? I am terrified of anonymous comments. Thank you nevertheless...

  3. Reading this piece Sanjibda (Professor Sanjib Baruah) pointed out the fact that the social gap between Guwahati and Diphu, or that between the two young men and the Karbi villagers, is too large for social media to be able to bridge...For Abhijeet and Nilotpal, even if Karbi Anglong was only two hours drive away, the world they enter is far, far away.
    Moreover, for the Karbi villagers who had heard about a 'xopadhara' around in the village with children to worry about and without any expectation of a functioning state to help, their reaction in self-defense is not very surprising.
    Finally, about the dangers of social media he observes that: In the new digital world it creates a make-believe universe of familiarity. But that does not make the gaps go away. So the modern looks of a young man from Guwahati could perfectly fit the image of a xopadhora in Karbi Anglong. And the rest then follows inevitably.
    All valid points, Sanjibda, but I still feel, as you must also, that nothing whatsoever can condone a death, a murder, a killing. Thanks for your keen observations.

    1. On the Thailand incident, Sanjibda writes: Your contrast with Thailand was very helpful — what you have there is functioning institutions that people have learnt to trust. By contrast what you have in Assam exemplifies “Orajokota.”