Saturday, 11 December 2010
We, the lynch mob
Some years ago, I had gone to meet up with my CA at his office located close to Charni Road station, Mumbai. As I was walking towards where I had parked my car, I heard a massive commotion at a kerb. Some fifty people had gathered and were mercilessly beating up a couple of young men. Already there was blood on the street. When I rushed to check what was afoot, I was told the two had been spotted running with a bag of valuables, apparently stolen from one of the offices located in the area.
While a couple of us tried to stop the mob, someone else called the cops. But the mob fury raged on relentlessly. And by the time help arrived, the chaps were almost dead. And then everyone simply walked away non-chalantly. Bank clerks, businessmen, courier boys, hangers-on. Some venting their own frustrations on the alleged thieves, others simply enjoying a good chance to have a go. And no, it didn’t occur to anyone that, one, what they just did was illegal. And two, that, for all they knew, the boys weren’t guilty as charged. Those minor details don’t matter when you spot an opportunity to deliver a fist of fury. What fun!
Now, I am sure this is nothing new. And this regularly happens on the streets of India. So far so bad. Then, an explosion happened in the Indian TV media. And suddenly, the lynch mob landed inside the TV studios. And this time they were a bunch of convent educated, designer clothes wearing dudes. A few, celebrities in their own right. And night after night, they have been delivering instant justice on any one even mildly accused of any wrong doing. Has he been charged with murder? Hang the bastard tonight on prime time! Has he been accused of molesting a minor girl? Send the swine to jail for life, tonight! Did the poor student commit suicide because his bloody head master caned him? Send the fiend into prison, RIGHT NOW!
Yup. It’s the same lynch mob in action. Only, they don’t look like street ruffians. Under the disguise of crusading journalism, our TV anchors have not just been lynching alleged criminals, they have been delivering tabartop justice as well. From inside air-cooled TV studios. All in a few minutes of talk time. And it doesn’t matter if the person is eventually found guilty or not by the courts. That’s irrelevant to the ‘breaking news’ hysteria. The TV mob has already finished that suspect. For life. No wonder Ratan Tata says we are turning into a banana republic. Sure, we are.
And ironically, this time, the same poetic justice has been delivered to the TV journos, post Radiagate. Barkha & gang have been attacked by a massive lynch mob in the cyber space. Some of the slander and abuse going around isn’t even printable. The twitterati junta has already made up its mind: the journalists are guilty and must be made to pay. Right now!
So, virtual lynching is now the new form of street justice. The net has opened up doors to all sorts of cads, losers and frustos. And they have been merrily tarnishing reputations, firing in all directions indiscriminately, a la Ajmal Qasab. It’s a free for all out there. It’s as if the animal lynch instinct surfaced as the mouse came in hand. And all of them get away with it, despite leaving their foot prints (unlike the street lynchers). Because cyber laws are not in place, and it’s impossible to sue every dolt who wants to have a go.
So, god help you if you trip even slightly now. The lynch mob is ready to fire.
On the streets. In the TV studios. And in the virtual world.