On the evening of January 11th 2005, my bus from Manipal to Mangalore met with a minor accident. Though the bus drivers’ on this road are maniacs, this time around, the driver of the bus in which I was traveling was innocent. It was a funny accident. The bus in front had stopped to pick a passenger - a seasoned fisherwoman. Since its rear warning lights weren’t functioning, the driver of my bus noticed it too late. He braked; but the weight of the bus took it forward and we nudged the bus in front. The seasoned fisherwoman who was taking all precautions to make a grand, albeit slow, entry from the rear door was knocked down. She was petrified and started bawling so loudly that it brought a huge crowd of locals. The passengers of our bus melted in the crowd. I espied the conductor; the pint-sized guy was boarding a bus and scooting. He made a strange gesture to me as he left; more like the manner in which the umpire at the recently introduced 20:20 cricket matches announces a Free Hit!
I was left with the driver. There was one other passenger, an engineering student, who opted to stay back. The youth among the crowd began manhandling the driver. While one caught him by the collar another tried to slap him; the young student and me jumped into the fray and pulled away the driver from the youth. On the background, I could still here the wailing fisherwoman. That was when I blew my top! I shouted at the youth to first help the lady and then come back to sort out the issue. The youth were now confused but one among them, a mean looking guy, was drawling that there was nothing wrong with the lady but the driver need to be taught a lesson. Absurd!
Somehow, we managed to extricate the driver. A flash of a crisp one hundred note to the lady helped her on her feet. She was bruised; we managed to get her on an auto and to the local primary health center. The driver we whisked to the police station. The mean looking guy accompanied us. But at the police station he refused to file any complaint. He simply told me that all he wanted was beat the driver up! He did not believe in any law! I was being introduced to the new league of Indian Justice! The new plainclothes superheroes! The Vigilante! They hunt in packs and do not wait for court trials! Sometimes the mere apian bite of the new breed of ‘sting’ news reporters galvanizes them into action!
Vigilantes have been around for a while now. Even in the days of yore, people who stepped on the wrong side of law were paraded in the streets, either seating backwards on Asses or dragged behind carts. Their faces would have been blackened and the public would stone them or spit on them; publicly shaming them for their alleged offence. This behaviour had the tacit approval of the king. One could say that the comic book heroes Batman, Spiderman & Superman are also vigilantes. They act in the interest of the larger good of the society. Perhaps today’s vigilante feels that they are acting, in the same manner, to protect mankind by fighting for truth and justice.
Many of you would have grimaced when you saw on TV the footage of a man being tied to a motorcycle and dragged on a kaccha road after being brutally beaten by a mob. His offence was that he had stolen a chain from a lady. I am of the opinion that the presence of the TV cameras spurred our plainclothes super heroes to try this crude form of punishment. It was also the TV cameras that captured the rather well rehearsed storming of an apartment by the ‘Bai’ brigade in Mumbai. Once gain it was the TV cameras that beamed us pictures of the molestation of an innocent teacher on the bases of wild allegations.
Today, there seems to be a nexus between the media and the vigilante. One requires the other to enhance their respective cause; the media for better ratings and the vigilante for a two-minute claim to fame.
Is there is a silent crossing over of Democracy to Mobocracy?
"A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine" - Thomas Jefferson
It looks like Mobocracy is here to stay in our cities. “With people from rural areas migrating to larger towns and cities, the mob culture comes naturally as an add-on” is the comment we hear often. Even men of law fear a mob. From a group of ordinary people going about their daily chores they suddenly transform into a faceless force on a rampage.
One curious twist to the cause of the vigilantes – why is it that they do not target the rich and the powerful, the crooked politician, the corrupt government babus & the so-called God men? Is there a fear factor lurking within them? Is that the reason for bashing up a hapless accused?