Ansh Aggarwal and unavoidable questions

Ansh Aggarwal got beaten to death by a mob of college students. This much we know for certain. Other details emerge. Some news stories speaking of it as a love triangle, others saying that it was over abusive messages sent to a girl on Facebook (without making clear who sent them), Ansh’s family saying that the accused sent the abusive messages and the girl had filed a police complaint…. as though a murder can have explanations that make it palatable.

I am not going to talk about this murder, because it has already happened. I am going to talk about the murders that are going to happen and if we have any intentions of avoiding them, or if we are content getting our daily dose of horror and then pointing superior fingers. A few things in this situation speak of a very concerning state of our society itself. Questions that have been building and building and no one seems to want to take them seriously.

Failure of law and order

I am not only speaking about a person being murdered. I am speaking of  a society that has few alternatives than to fight battles themselves that the law will not. Let us begin with asking how many girls can expect police to act when they get abused on the internet? What alternative does a friend who wants to see her safe have other than confronting the culprit himself? Note that the abuser being a real life contact takes this beyond the realm of “ignore”. This is at the root of a lot of security and human rights problems in the country.

The law barely works with very serious matters, that too if you are not discredited. If you are discredited, or your suffering is not sensational enough, our law has increasingly started looking like a multiple choice opt-in question. It is fairly evident that the first thought that comes to a police mind is if they need to take on the hassle, or if they can get away with dismissing it. Rampant victim blaming is also a result of this.

Failure of politics and radicalization

Our method of politics being that of forming lynch mobs – physical or verbal, this is the society we are creating. Supporting or opposing anything is less about what that thing is, and more about who is bringing it up and if you are on their side. The power of a mob to hold society and security at hostage has not been fought, but nurtured into a weapon of choice.

As I remarked in my post on riots, a person who would file a police complaint if their mother got killed will easily riot on the streets attacking the “enemy” for religious or political reasons in the name of hurt feelings.Apparently, feelings are only hurt if specific enemies do wrong things. Well, good morning. Once an action gets legitimacy, it no longer remains limited to the context of its origin.

In a society where political or religious rioting bought vote bonanzas and got citizens rallying to fight for the dignity of their religion, we have children forming mobs when they get outraged too. This is the world they grew up in, where certain wrongs, specially wrongs where “us” are insulted by “them” are best dealt with through physical violence.

While the mob that attacked Ansh was definitely wrong and criminal, we need to look at our own culpability in creating an environment where this is an acceptable action – unless something goes “really wrong”. It is increasingly common to find people reacting to riots with an examination of the provocation, instead of seeing them as acts of violence perpetrated on citizens. Why would hormone laden teenagers not riot if their mother got abused over some conflict about a girl? They were provoked, and national role models do not take such things quietly. Police do not harm you if you have rioted for a “just cause”. This is the world we have created.

Media Courts

There is a specific pattern to how media responds to an incident that is very unhealthy. Instead of limiting itself to providing factual information, media increasingly pronounces guilt or worse, tries to fix it on someone, which complicates the case a lot. So now, in the Ansh case, here are the different versions of “what happened”:

  • Girl gets text message on Facebook. Ansh Aggarwal and the accused fight over it. (note, no mention here of who sent it)
  • Both victim and accused interested in same girl, but girl favored the accused.
  • Victim tried to get accused to not harass a girl
  • Victim’s brother got taken to scene of crime
  • Altercation that led to victim’s death was spontaneous.
  • Girl had got harassed by the accused on Facebook, post which she filed a complaint as well as Ansh (this was ridiculously easy to verify, but no one seems to have done it)
  • An argument escalated into the murder (doesn’t explain the handy rent-a-thugs)

And so on. This is routine after every crime, every parliamentary sneeze. The media reports everything it finds with little analysis or verification. In the process it ignores questions that really need to be asked of the country by providing a clutter rich environment that allows everyone to pick what they think is most important to be addressed, which usually involves something with least responsibility on them.

From being a mirror and a change agent, media is fast becoming a parrot for the convenience of those in power. So you have fight over a girl, and such things being spoken of freely, but little along the lines of why this is happening at all or what needs to be done to fix this. The parotted answer is to fix the police force. Yet, what do we do to fix ourselves?

Meena Kandasamy got abused on Twitter over her tweets on the beef issue. Threatened with being butchered, gang raped and such violence. “decent” people ignored it. If the threats get acted upon, the same “decent people” will then vent their anguish – led by the media. But while they read the tweets threatening her, they don’t object. They don’t “tangle with such people”. After all, what she supported hurt sentiments of people, so they will retaliate. This is the world we have created. A world with laws that have nothing to do with the Constitution or penal code and everything to do with the war between power lobbies to conquer the country.

A Manipuri student got beaten to death by his seniors in the college hostel in Bangalore. Why? Because he changed the channel while they were watching the IPL. Yet, there are hundreds of people who have known college bullying to happen without interfering. Only if the person died, then it is wrong. It is high time we faced the fact that we tolerate it till the point it becomes visibly ugly. Hence such energy in distancing ourselves and condemning. It is a disowning of own complacency.

We want to pretend that till a certain point it was ok, which is why we didn’t speak up, and now it is not ok, because if we don’t speak up, we’ll be outed for the bigots we are. These kids – these murderer kids are also among us. They have vented hate, and we have said “oh, let it be – they are like that only” till one fine day we can’t let it be, and it is so out of control that we declare ourselves innocent and wash our hands off our problem.

Either way, we do nothing. Society gets fragmented to pander to these individual power grabs. We are more comfortable like that, because we don’t have to do anything. We can condemn bad happenings after they happen and turn them into showcases of our great values and integrity.

In my view, yes, Anush Aggarwal’s murder was wrong. But more than the murder, my worry is that a bunch of ticked off teenagers can easily turn into a murderous mob that fast. It is the India we are creating with our increasing list of things it is okay to protest with violence. We need to change our whole environment, if we are to expect children to not grow up with this kind of “normal”.

We are as responsible for the wrongs we allow to happen unopposed, as we are for those we do.

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