Text: Prem Panicker
December 11: A rally by Adivasis demanding Scheduled Tribe status turns into a bloodbath in Guwahati, killing at least 7 and injuring 300. 10,000 protestors, many armed with bows and arrows, lay waste to a 5-km stretch of road between Beltola and the Assembly-Secretariat complex. Over 350 vehicles are damaged, homes are ransacked, men are beaten up and women molested, shops are vandalised. Curfew is clamped, business comes to a halt as does all semblance of normal life.
November 27: Also in Guwahati, Prasenjit Chakravorty, 28, who owns a fast food joint; hotel waiter Rahul Barman, 18 and paan shop owner Sudip Chakdar, 20, join forces with other young men in the locality and strip an Adivasi girl stark naked. Their excuse -- they are protesting the Adivasis' demand for ST status. The girl is shorn of every strip of clothing; she is molested in the middle of a busy street while people gather -- many to watch, some to join in. The girl breaks free and runs down the street; the laughing, leering young men snap her pictures on their cell phones. A member of the media who happens to be on the spot takes pictures of it all: the naked, fleeing girl; the leering young men and their cell phones. The girl has to run over a kilometre before a shop-keeper takes pity on her, and gives her his shirt to cover her nakedness, cloak her shame.
Cause, you will say, and effect. Adivasis in Assam -- like Gujjars in Rajasthan, say -- have been agitating for ST status for a while now. The perception that the 'disadvantaged' are getting an ever-increasing share of opportunity, vide government-sponsored reservations, angers those of the upper caste who see themselves as being victimised. They react; the Adivasis press their demand; violence is the outcome -- and damaged houses and vehicles, lost lives and business, a publicly ravaged teenager are merely so much collateral damage.
Is it really that simple? Is it 'righteous indignation', as the apologists claim, or is it unprincipled mob rule dressed in the sheep's clothing of frustration?
Are these two incidents symptoms, merely, of a much larger malaise affecting our civil society -- a dangerous malaise, that needs diagnosis and cure? Pull back for a moment, and consider half a dozen different examples, culled from a sadly bloated list of several dozen such:
Image: Supporters of the All India Adivasi Parishad in Siliguri, West Bengal, protest against violence against tribals in neighbouring Assam. Photograph: Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Getty Images
Also read: 'Stripping of Adivasi woman was isolated incident'
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