The beating of young people at a pub in Mangalore is part of a series of incidents of intolerance and violence witnessed in different parts of India of late. It has been condemned as moral policing, hooliganism and even “Talibanization”. It fits well with those labels. There is, however, more to it than mere intolerance.
The facts are clear. On Saturday, a group of 25 belonging to an obscure group called the Sri Ram Sena barged into a pub in Mangalore and beat up young men and women dancing there. The allegation against the revellers was that their behaviour was “indecent”. Arrests have been made in the case. This occurred only after all-round condemnation. Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa was content with calling the incident “unfortunate”.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Instead of merely condemning such incidents as indicators of growing intolerance, it is important to look at what causes such incidents. Many, if not most, such incidents have been instigated by regional parties (such as the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) or by mainstream parties that are trying to get a deeper footprint in unexplored political territory.
Socially, this type of violence takes place at the hands of economically underprivileged groups. Envious of others, these “have-nots” often use the garb of morality to indulge in violence towards those whom they perceive to be better endowed. Envy, anger and political ends meet perfectly in this grey zone.
To many, this might sound like pop sociology going too far. In political terms, however, this is perfectly rational. Economic populism has its limits as far as mobilizing voters is concerned. In any case, it’s an expensive proposition for opposition parties (or, for that matter, ruling parties) that have little access to patronage resources. It is doubly expensive at the state level, where public finances are badly stretched in any case. In this situation, “action” of the kind witnessed in Mangalore works well for all involved, save those who bear the brunt of the violence.
Given the ends that such acts serve, there is no easy way to curb them. There are weak devices such as public protests and media vigil and reporting. But they don’t go to the root cause of such mobilization. In any case, far too much political capital has been invested in such tactics to be given up easily. This is not a mere assault on liberal India; there are bigger political stakes involved here.
Mangalore and moral policing: is there a political link? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org