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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Little India Riot and Culture in India

There seem to be 3 major competing theories about Singapore's Little India Riot:

1) Alcohol (favoured by the government)
2) Bad living/working conditions (favoured by liberals/activists)
3) Singapore having too many foreigners/a culture clash (favoured by 'xenophobes')

The hoi polloi (make no mistake, the government and liberals/activists undoubtedly look down on the 'xenophobes' as the unwashed masses) might actually be the most right of the three; there indeed seems to be a culture in India of attacking drivers and public authorities and destroying property after a traffic or train accident:

Rajasthan: Crowd burns 2 trains after accident

"In a shocking incident in Rajasthan, a goods train was set on fire by an angry mob after it rammed into a truck at an unmanned railway crossing on the Jaisalmer-Bikaner line, killing eight and injuring several others.

While the injured have been shifted to a hospital, the mob also burnt a relief train that was sent to the accident site.

The furious mob continues to block the affected line."

50 charged for rioting after Sohna accident
Nov 8, 2013

"A day after students and villagers went on the rampage, setting ablaze a PCR van and blocking Sohna-Palwal road for hours, police have charged 50 students and villagers with rioting and obstructing public servants in discharge of their duty...

Two engineering students were killed and another was injured when a speeding dumper crushed their motorcycle near Lakhuwas. The World Institute of Technology students were riding triple and only the driver was wearing helmet.

When police reached the spot, students and villagers pelted stones at them and set ablaze a PCR van."

West Bengal: Train runs over woman, protestors squat on track

"Train movement to and from the terminal Howrah station was stalled on Monday evening as protestors, angered by a train running over a woman, squatted on track, hurled stones and damaged four trains and injured an assistant driver."

Dozens die as train runs over pilgrims in India, crowd assaults driver
19 August 2013

"At least 37 people, mostly Hindu pilgrims, were killed and several injured when an express train ran them over in India's eastern state of Bihar on Monday, police said.

Angry locals and pilgrims set six coaches of the train on fire, assaulted the train driver and took railway officials hostage...

"There are three rail lines at the station and the people were trying to cross over the tracks to the platform on the other side. The train came speeding in on the middle line, crushing people under its wheels," senior police official SK Bhardwaj said.

A dozen people were injured in the accident, 160 kilometres east of state capital Patna.

Locals told news channels that there was no railway staff or arrangements to alert passengers not to cross the tracks that were in use...

Angry crowds pelted stones at the train which stopped near the station, pulled out the driver and beat him. They later took some railway staff hostage and set the train on fire.

"The situation is very tense as over 2,000 people are agitating there. Witnesses say the station has also been vandalized and damaged," Prabhakar said...

Local police said angry mobs have started attacking the Rajya Rani Express, an interstate passenger train, and set fire to several carriages. They have also attacked a nearby train station."

To be clear, since those the riot involved Indian nationals, it is reasonable to assume that they were behaving similarly to how they would've behaved in India at the scene of a road accident - they rioted.

This thought is not entirely original; I was reading online that in India, the police and emergency services are seen as corrupt, so the crowd take out their anger on them and try to get vigilante justice by also attacking the 'guilty' party.

Of course, as the opening statement of the Committee of Inquiry states, "it is entirely possible that the incident could be attributable of a combination of factors rather than a single factor".

Nonetheless, if this anarchistic tendency in India is found to be a contributing factor, this will undoubtedly be inconvenient for the government and liberals/activists (albeit for different reasons).

Sudhir Srinivasan's answer to Auto and Traffic Accidents: After a traffic accident (in India), why does the mob generally vent its 'fury' on the driver, vehicle, other people and/or the police, engage in vandalism, as well as cause a road blockade, inconveniencing others? - Quora

"You will notice that the people who stage such public protests, and who often go about vandalising vehicles are often those who are generally downtrodden. They are usually from the economically backward sections of the society. The middle class Indian is too proud to stage a protest on the road. He is too busy to sit with a crowd in public. He is too fearful of his safety to behave aggressively.

A recent conversation I had with a local government councillor shed some light on this. He said, "Do you know why the lower class often get what they want? For example, a traffic light or a speedbreaker in their area? It is because they know how to take advantage of democracy. It is because they sit down in public and stage protests. This gets the job done, as opposed to a middle class educated Indian sending a random e-mail or updating his Facebook with a status." It's a way of life for the poor, especially those in the slums. Staging a public protest is something that they have seen to be pretty useful.

Another reason is the general hatred most people have for the government generally. We all read so much about corruption, and while we struggle to make ends meet, we notice politicians blocking traffic to pass easily, with dozens of government-sponsored cars following them. We hear of their investments. We hear of the crores that are looted. And then we're busy paying taxes and struggling to get deductions. There's much hatred simmering just below the surface. It is my opinion that when you catch a government bus driver being part of an accident, the simmering hatred surfaces. Many of these poor people live lives of quiet desperation, and this sort of a situation breaks the monotony. It gives them some sort of power when they smack the window of the bus. Like they have taken power and done something fruitful.

This is not so much about the victim. This is about the pent-up anger and frustration. This is not about what is right and what is wrong. This is simply an opportunity to take matters into your hands, and to assert your dominance in whatever pointless, trivial way. "Break the damned bus! Let the government spend some money on it, the bastards! Corrupt fucks. Come on, let us teach that driver a lesson by beating the shit out of him." This seems to be the general sentiment. And of course, the mob mentality kicks in. When you notice a group of self-righteous people attacking somebody, you're inclined to joining them.

These are simply my thoughts on this matter, and why I believe traffic accidents meet with irrational, unkind public responses, including damage to public property and road rokos, many times."
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