A mob set the railway station on fire in Gulabganj, Madhya Pradesh, after two children were run over by a train. A railway employee died in the fire, while two others were injured.
How can such a reaction come about in this day and age? It is quite usual for mobs to gather and set cars and trucks on fire when a road accident takes place, claiming the lives of locals. This is because the person in the four-wheeler is always considered responsible. How does this extend to the railways, where the onus is entirely on people to be careful while crossing the tracks? It can only be described as fortuitous that the train had not stopped, or the people could have set fire to it as well.
Clearly, there is developing a large underclass of people that looks upon the Indian state, the mainstream of society, and the symbols of progress, in an antagonistic manner. They have no stake in the system at all, believe it is oppressive and consider it as the ‘other’. The younger elements among them take pleasure in inflicting violence given the opportunity to do so with impunity, be it burning down a railway station, or attacking factories during a trade-union inspired strike.
Should it not be the business of government and academia to examine this phenomenon before it takes on epidemic proportions? Or, are they in agreement with the Maoists that spilling blood and causing mayhem is a necessary precursor to changing a ‘rotten and corrupt system’?
Part of the solution, of course, has to be appropriate punitive action (certainly not the clumsy handling seen in the hanging of Afzal Guru.) If the people of a region burn down their railway station, why should the government rebuild it? If they consider the railway tracks an imposition on their lives, government should accept this on face value. It should establish a security post in the area as it would in a disturbed area to protect government infrastructure, and leave the people to their own devices. A process must be started by which people either continue down the road of alienation to the logical end, or realise that they have a stake in public property. One does not respond to tragedy by burning down one’s house!
At the same time, sociologists and psychologists must follow up on such incidents to examine the processes that lead to ‘mobocracy’ in its various forms. This is important because, while every section of the population has the right to inflict misery upon itself if it so wishes, it cannot be allowed to harm the interests of others. The rise of the mob mentality has political implications, both, in the rural and urban context. Further decline in government’s authority will transform the mobs to militias, as well as underground terrorist groups.
Government intervention should ensure that the ‘triggers’ and ‘enabling factors’ are identified and dealt with before they destroy the fabric of society in one or the other part of the country. This should not be done on ideological or political terms to avoid controversy. It is a social problem with sociological remedies. Broadly speaking, people everywhere ought to have access to a multiplicity of world views, economic and educational opportunities, and responsive administration. But, how would we really know if those who ought to examine such incidents don’t do so in the first place?