Public representatives' silence is fueling vigilantism in Silchar and next could be your bedroom
You get to know that a couple is making out somewhere in a cafe or restaurant, probably undressed. You pick up your mobile phone, switch on your camera and walk straight into their private space albeit in a commercial establishment. When the girl in a compromised situation, tries to cover herself, you snatch away her clothes. She tries to hide behind the boy and you force the boy to get a clear vision. After doing all of it, you film the girl naked and then put it out on social media. You do all of it while there are the Jai Shree Ram chants echoing in the background. Is this brand of vigilantism the new India?
Recently, in Silchar’s Chit Chat Family Restaurant cum Cyber Cafe a couple was caught in an intimate moment. In the evening of November 22, a group of young individuals went inside the cafe, vandalised it, and filmed the couple. For them, they were collecting proof. But wait a minute, proof of what? There are many versions- the boy’s surname is often found in a non-Hindu community and therefore the initial allegation was that the cafe is promoting “Love Jihad”. That is ruled out. Multiple Hindu organisations, as well as the Police, have confirmed that both boy and girl belong to the Hindu community. There is another argument in favour of filming – what if the group is asked for proof. For them, the response is, no proof justifies the way the hotel has been vandalised and the girl’s modesty has been compromised. This is often counter-argued by saying if the girl cared about modesty then she would not have been in that position in a cafe. Well, it is only the court that can pronounce guilty and even the criminals deserve justice.
The point is, in a democracy where there is a Police station at every corner, why does the group of young individuals have to take the law into their own hands? How many of them are aware of the legal treatment mandated by the Supreme Court in such a case? In India, a male Police Officer even if he is the highest officer of his Police Out Post, cannot arrest a female suspect or in fact, a convict unless it is in self-defense or a threat to national security. In such a country, is it justified for a male mob to film a naked woman and then make it viral?
Obscenity is a crime and a public display of affection can irk people. But there is a law well defined to tackle such situations. There is a reason why it takes certain qualifications to be the judge, to be a lawyer, a police officer, or a deputy commissioner. Why is it that every now and then, the mobocracy takes over the bureaucracy in this democracy?
Within minutes of the incident, the video of the couple was uploaded on social media. Her face is 100% visible even when she wasn’t fully clothed. Making that video viral is a bigger crime than making out in public. So, who is the bigger criminal here? And why is nobody talking about that criminal or that group of criminals?
There is one odd case of vigilantism everywhere in India and all around the world. But the problem in Silchar is that it is spreading like a wildfire and the silence from public representatives is fuelling that devastation. A girl allegedly drunk in a Durga Puja night was hounded by a mob in Ambicapatty – the education hub of the district (Read more here). A controversial Indian poet of the Bengali language who won the Ananda Puroskar in 2004 for his book ‘Udanta Sawb Joker: All Those Flying Jokers’, was at an event in Silchar. The same poet is a recipient of the Filmfare Awards East for Best Lyricist for the song ‘Balir Shohor’ from ‘Mishawr Rawhoshyo’. His event was vandalised.
A non-Hindu boy who volunteered in cremating COVID victims was chased with weapons by his own community and later his family was forced to remain in isolation. This mob does not belong to any particular religion or political party or community. At best it is a mob with free mobile data and a lot of time and at worst, they are blood hungry criminals.
In each of these cases, the MPs and MLAs across parties choose to remain silent. With all fairness, in Barak Bulletin’s programme, Silchar MP Rajdeep Roy publically condemned the vandalisation of the poet’s event. But that came almost a year after the incident. All the politicians in Cachar are highly educated and there is no doubt that they won’t support such acts. However, their silence sends the wrong message. They are the same bunch of people who were prompt to condemn the arrest of Arnab Goswami in Mumbai. So why is it that they ignore the sheer breach of law and order in their own constituencies? Why is it that they don’t find the girl’s naked video going viral on social media offensive? Why is it that they wear a blindfold each time there is a mob involved?
As smartphones have penetrated into the nook and corner, it has driven privacy to the intensive care unit, if not in coma. Just the sheer possession of a phone with a built-in camera cannot be the license to play cops, lawyers, and judges. But there is nobody telling this loud and clear.
Editors and senior journalists who reported during the emergency have all maintained that no matter how bad the situation today is, in terms of the freedom of citizens in this country, it cannot be compared with the emergency period. The reason, all of them say is, “Today, there is nobody entering your bedroom or targeting the private parts.”
In the video that has gone viral, the mob with the camera was just targeting the privacy of the girl. Will the administration and public representatives put their foot down and send a strong message against vigilantism or moral policing? In a world where injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, today that girl finds her video gone viral without her consent. Even though it was a crime, whatever they were doing inside the cafe was consensual, the video was not.
Will that girl get justice or is it that justice belongs to the mob in India. The ball now is in the judiciary’s court.
To respond to this editorial or share your point of view, you can write to Anirban Roy Choudhury at firstname.lastname@example.org