William Shakespeare, the master story-teller that he was, gave the world the nuances of how the mobs work in his acclaimed play “Julius Caesar”. The five-act play detailed the killing of Caesar, the ensuing battle for public opinion and the eventual demise of the conspirators who killed him. While the main story is about how Caesar gets killed and what happens thereafter, every aspect of the play drives home how lone minds can plant deceit and distrust in the minds of people and then how mobs can be worked up to go along the way of a few select people who takes the role of manipulating the majority, to the desired end. The state of society in Rome in the grips of a few, bent on controlling which way the shift of power plays out and who gets to control it as described in Shakespeare’s play only has to be interchanged with Manipur and what is happening. Just as the calm rational voice did not find favor with the Roman mob when addressed by Brutus with “Romans, countrymen, and lovers! Hear me for my/ cause and be silent that you may hear”; issues get more ‘serious’ in Manipur when rationale gets lost and is replaced by sheer emotions ranging from anger to rage to indignation. Just as the impassioned speech by Mark Anthony with “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” leading the crowd to empathize with him followed by the emotional sighting of Caesar’s dead body works, so also the mention of slights, real or perceived in Manipur today is enough to bring mobs on the streets and take matters into their hands.
Social commentators will point to the poor legal and the lack of proper police investigation and support for social crimes as leading to increasing social visibility and emergence of mobs and groups of people taking on the role of social vigilantes. In Manipur, it has almost become an accepted norm for people to gather and go about dismantling houses or ostracizing entire families if a family member happens to be accused in a crime. Public lynching too has become a common occurrence and no longer shocks those who hear about such instances. The utter apathy of law enforcement mechanisms, including the failure of the police to book those who resort to mob justice also means that there is an almost tacit leeway being given for such actions to take place. Rather, the lack of punishment or even stringent social censure fir such acts have only emboldened more and more people to follow the herd mentality and copy the acts of social justice by mobs. Over and above mobs who collect over social crimes like rape, murder, assaults, extortion and the like to mete out the terms set by the mob to render ‘justice’ there are the additional groups both formal and non formal that have emerged as moral guardians and even taken on the role that is expected of a police force. The recently feted Meira Paibis by the President of India no less, in its earlier days had started like one such group that almost took on a legal unit with its drives against alcohol and drug use. In situations where alcohol vending units were being run by women, the Nisha Bandis were roped in for body search and even physical run in. Much later, when their ire turned towards drug users who they tonsured and paraded before the public in a bid to curb drug use would activists from the NGO sector make a feeble attempt of crying foul. Of course, by the time the Nisha Bandis had turned into human rights defender groups, younger people more savvy at project proposals would continue in the path made by them and turn moral guardians by rounding up drug users and having them make public apologies etc.
So of course, many will say that the emergence of the mob culture is a reflection of the sorry state of how lawfully instituted mechanisms do not work and the fact that the people do not have faith in them. They will say it is unbridled anger and rage doing its job on the streets. But can we let unbridled anger and rants take over the reins of society? That is the one area that needs to be tackled with honesty. Happily though, not all mobs have to do with blood and gore and perhaps, it won’t be long when the all too packed busy streets of Imphal will host flash mobs, a spectacle where people who may or may not know each other converge at a pre destined time and take up a ‘mob’ activity which may be a simple flashing of mobile cameras and doing ‘click’ all at once, opening umbrellas at one go or just dancing common steps. Flash mobs once they start in this part of the country could just be the right medicine for all the anger and the rage.