Avoid Mob Takeover

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By: Muhammad Tahir

Back in the late 2000’s, I read an interesting book by William Ury The Third Side (1999). An anthropologist and a negotiation expert, Ury provides many real life examples to show practical ways of intervening between warring parties, be it in family or outside. As he says, ‘it takes two sides to fight, but a third to stop.’

At that time, the book gave me a good feeling because, on many occasions, I had played that ‘third side’ role. But it also made me realise that our society, by and large, had this innate feature which instinctively activate itself on occasions like road side quarrels to diffuse a situation from turning nasty. You would see people intervening, saying things like “hey ladai ma’sa kariv…”, “hey laayuss ma…”, “hey ye chui gatchan galath…”, “hey thayivsa wan…”, “hey kehn chuina…”.

Basically, these words have a potential effect to cool down tempers. These interventions do work, most of the times, especially if the words come from an elder or a respectable person.

I used to think that because in our society people often volunteer to play the ‘third side,’ that may explain why we see less nasty fights in Kashmir. Over the time, however, I did read many headlines which made me skeptical about my initial assessment. Just recently I read: “Man kills brother over land dispute in Tral.”

The conflict related deaths and violent incidents were always there, but it was difficult to conceive of a ‘third side’ in that volatile political dynamic, other than the ‘international community.’

However, I do remember, during highly charged period of 2010 unrest, a policeman found himself cornered in our street. Before enraged young men could thrash him, someone wrapped arms around the cop and took him inside a residential house. He was given water and assured of safety. During the same time, one fine morning, I saw how a middle aged man intervened and save a cab driver from being thrashed by soldiers. This man literary came in between the charging army man and the driver, shouting: “What is his fault?” Sensing possible protest, troops let the driver go.

As Ury says, there are many reasons why fights break out. It could be anger or fear; people may believe they are firmly in the right; or they might think they are stronger and will prevail in the fight. But, what was the cause of the fight near Jamia Masjid on Lailat-ul-Qadr, which eventually led to death of the police officer? And most importantly, why didn’t any one played the ‘third side’? Or if anyone did, why couldn’t it stop the fight, or at least why couldn’t policeman’s life be saved? These are the questions which only an independent, impartial investigation can answer.

Elders say it was unprecedented in Kashmir. It received wide condemnation. “Deeply disturbed and condemn the brutal act at Nowhatta. Mob violence and public lynching is outside the parameters of our values and religion,” Mirwaiz Umar Farooq tweeted. “We cannot allow state brutality to snatch our humanity and values.”

But on social media, opinions were mixed. Some people threw accusations of ‘selective condemnation’ at those who showed outrage at this incident but “remained silent at the Kakapora killings” and many such cases? Some used this to blame the Azadi movement in general; Indian electronic media seized the moment to double-up its noise, painting whole Kashmiri society as barbaric, but conveniently ignoring the incidents of lynching which have been regularly happening in their own backyard.

Since this incident came on the heels of Kakapor encounter where three young Kashmiri rebels, Shakir (18), Irshad (17) and Majid (19), were killed and their bodies charred, a feeling of disgust, shock, and anger had already swept around.

But one thing should be made very clear: Ayub was beaten to death; it was barbaric, reprehensible and cannot be justified. A friend wrote on Facebook: “Even if he was an intelligence cop, he didn’t deserve death like that.” It is not what we Kashmiris are known for, and this must never happen again.

I know like any good society Kashmiri community is also inherently generous and hospitable. We have demonstrated what is good in us time and again (e.g., 2014 floods) and many non-Kashmiris vouch for that. We believe in helping each other, we believe in sharing things, celebrating and mourning together, and we believe in taking khabar of each other. These are our values and traditions and we cherish them.

Though details are still awaited, but reports so far reveal that it was a mob which killed Ayub. This should alarm us. How come we let a mob to kill somebody on an auspicious night? Circumstance in which Ayub was killed are complex. But we must be careful because given the tumultuous situation in Kashmir.

Social psychologists argue, in a crowd, people experience ‘deindividuation’ (i.e loss of self-awareness). It happens in the highly excited state of being inside a crowd, and it leads to “anti-normative and dis-inhibited behaviour”, i.e the normal restraint and inhibition weakens.

We need to reinforce our societal mechanism of ‘third side’ and not let ‘mob mentality’ get the better of us, whatever the circumstances. And, at the same time, we should not let others manipulate this incident to caricature us or diminish the justness of our political struggle.

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