We may never be strong enough to be entirely nonviolent in thought, word and deed. But we must keep nonviolence as our goal and make strong progress towards it. – Mahatma Gandhi
For a nation whose birth was inspired by the concept of nonviolence, it is indeed sad to note that violent behaviour in our society is increasing. As India is rapidly moving towards urbanisation, society is beginning to experience its negative fallout – the rising trend of violence in everyday life.
As per National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) Report 2013, violent crimes have been steadily increasing. A comparison of violent crimes committed in 2003 and 2012 reflects the rise in crime as India has urbanised rapidly during this period:
Incidents of Murder – 32,716 (2003), 34,434 (2012); Attempt to murder – 25,942 (2003), 35,138 (2012); Rape – 15,847 (2002), 24,923 (2012); and Kidnapping and Abduction – 19,992 (2003), 47,952 (2012). As per NCRB 2014 Report, the number of people committing suicide in 2014 was 1,31,666.
The statistics reflect the growing incidents of violent behaviour in India and therefore, it is important to understand the triggers to violent behaviour, which contradicts the very concept on which India’s most inspirational leader won us our freedom.
To address the problem of violence, we must first understand the nature of violence before exploring ways to address violent behaviour. Violence manifests at different levels – individual, community and national. In the context of this article, we shall restrict our focus to the individual and try to understand what drives an individual to violent behaviour and what can society do to address it.
One of the biggest triggers to violence by an individual is ego. While ego is normal for human beings, its impact on an individual’s behaviour varies from person to person. Any word or action by those around the individual can hurt the individual’s ego and result in violent reaction.
One of the biggest reasons for violence within the family is ego and this can affect everyone. Very often, a husband gets violent when a regular argument reaches a point where the wife hurts his ego. Once the ego is hurt, most men can’t control their response and result in either injuring the wife or killing her. In such cases, the husband tends to regret his action once he reverts to a calm state of mind. But in many cases, he remains unrepentant. The reason is again ego that prevents him from either accepting his violent reaction as a fault or forgiving the wife for what he thought was an insult.
The same is true in cases of violence against children at home. A father, or for that matter a mother, physically abuses the child, merely because the child would not obey either or both parents. While the resulting action can be violent, the reason behind the violent action is that the parent’s ego is hurt because the child happened to challenge the parent’s authority.
The workplace is another area where violence can occur. Very often an employee reacts violently against the boss for what he perceives as grave injustice being done to him. When a colleague is given preference or favoured by the superior for a promotion, pay rise or transfer, the individual’s ego is hurt and in some cases, it results in violent reaction.
What may seem trivial to most can actually be a trigger for violent reaction. For instance, denial of leave is very often the reason for a soldier of the defence or paramilitary to shoot his superior. In a factory situation, extended work hours may evoke a violent reaction. The underlining trigger is almost always the ego. While ego is natural to humans, how we react or control our response as a result of ego can be taught from an early age.
Ego is a double-edged sword. It can be a negative or positive virtue. Successful sportspersons who push themselves to break records are mostly driven by ego. This is a perfect example of how we can channelise our ego positively to excel as individuals. The same can be true for improving workplace performance.
Conflict of Interest
This is commonly seen at home in cases of property dispute among siblings. Whenever there is a conflict of interest, there is bound to be a reaction of either or both parties. When matters go out of control, violent response becomes the natural outcome and results in either injury or death of those involved.
Conflict of interest is also a common cause for violence among neighbours. A fight may break out due to a dispute over car parking or children crossing over each other’s spaces. Likewise, conflict of interest can also happen in a workplace and result in violent reaction by the aggrieved party.
Deprivation vs Aspiration
When society is simple and needs of all its members restricted to existential living, deprivation can cause violent behaviour. This is commonly seen when fights break out in societies where food is scarce. In such situations, survival instinct takes over all normal forms of social behaviour. Another place where scarcity of food and water results in violent behaviour is a refugee camp. The basic reason in such cases is deprivation.
Deprivation in an urban area can also cause violent behaviour. For example, in any city of India, a young individual may take to violence to get what he or she needs. It could be clothes, a simple phone, a bicycle or anything that the person does not possess but desperately needs. Deprivation of basic things needed to survive in urban city is usually the reason behind petty theft. When challenged, a violent reaction – usually defensive – is a natural response.
The problem with a society that rapidly urbanises is what was deprivation at one point of time soon transitions into ‘aspirational’ at another point. In India, this is one of the root causes for violent crimes, as borne out by the statistics of NCRB.
Greed and the desire to continually acquire more, takes over from being existential to one that is aspirational, and violence becomes a natural tool. Dacoity, violent robbery, murder, attempt to murder, are all outcomes of a society not satisfied with itself and the craving to acquire more.
Deprivation is when an urban youth steals a simple mobile phone that he cannot otherwise afford to buy; aspiration is when he steals because he wants to possess the latest smartphone in the market and is willing to resort to violence or any other means to acquire it. Urbanisation is resulting in greater aspiration where an individual is not satisfied with what he or she already possesses but aspires for a more affluent life that he sees in others.
The problem arises when that individual is not willing to work hard to go up the social ladder but is willing to resort to violence to quickly acquire material gain. The result forces rest of the members of society to figure out means to respond to this rising menace. Heavy-handed policing and police response do not address the problem but merely attempt to contain it.
Urbanisation is also resulting in greater emotional disconnect at an individual level as a result of workplace stress and/or peer pressure. As those around acquire more physical assets like a house, car or go for more holidays, the social pressure to keep up is resulting in a psychological breakdown, where people are beginning to take their own lives in order to escape from what they see as a never ending cycle. In almost all societies, rapid urbanisation is resulting in a rise in suicides and India is no exception. What is worrying is that what would seem to be an urban phenomenon is now extending to semi-urban and rural areas as well. The trigger to taking one’s own life could be financial, inter-personal or social pressure. A violent end is something no society can or should ignore.
Fighting Violence with Non-Violence
Both Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King showed that nonviolence could be the basis for collective response to achieve social or political goals. Both also spoke extensively on the need to imbibe nonviolence at an individual level, in thought and in action. This is best achieved through early education within the family first, and then the school and finally society at large. This education must become the central objective in our society, as all subsequent behaviour or action by individuals, would be influenced by it.
Awareness of the need to accept another opinion or action, contrary to one’s own, is the foundation for nonviolent behaviour. Tolerance at an individual level is a virtue that encourages healthy thought and debate, while tolerance when practiced collectively results in a pro-active society rather than one that is at conflict with itself. In such a scenario, violent behaviour becomes unnecessary.
If India has to continue its transition into a healthy and prosperous new age society, we need to revisit the basic concepts of tolerance, acceptance, introspection and deliverance, all of which have been at the core of our spiritual thought, as we progressed through time. Violence will automatically become irrelevant.
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