‘Is Sikkim becoming relatively unsafe?’ or ‘Are we beginning to feel unsafe?’ are questions that are being dealt with by never being asked. So far as these thorny questions go, our otherwise compulsively uproarious social media is as silent as a grave. Nothing is more reflective of the increasing danger on the streets as the angry posts on social media and yet there is hardly any commentary on this unfortunate trend that is gripping Sikkim tighter by the day. Is it really true that the Sikkimese minds that can be so disturbed by overflowing Gangtok roads during rains, blocked toilets in the new STNM hospital due to a lack of civic sense, etc. are not really concerned about the increasing hostility, incivility and even in some ways brutality that seem so pervasive in the state in the name of politics? Why is nobody commenting on the diminishing sense of safety? The indisposition to raise the issue could well be symptomatic of an underlying fear of being singled out!

“Ridiculing the human dignity of anyone just because he is alleged to have done something wrong is primitive and crude. How close is ‘mob questioning of a victim’ to ‘mob lynching of a victim’? It is naive to self-soothe, thinking that the tiger that ate my neighbour will spare me. Violence in any form is dangerous not only because it hurts but also because it spreads.”

The much expected post-poll normalcy did not return after 11th April. The political hostility has not abated. The hatred, anger, conflict and their ilk continue to eclipse common sense. By the looks of it, the wait is going to be long and the residual impacts of it all will be here to stay much longer than one would expect. The Sikkim that we are missing today will not be back for some time.

Phew! We witnessed a lot and a few posts will leave a lasting mark on public memory for years to come. The videos of associate professor Mukund Giri and some students being publicly interrogated sent shivers down my spine. As silly as their survey may have been, if not technically at least practically, given the heightened sensitivity of some to any election related matter, how they have been handled raises some serious questions about citizen safety. That those graphic videos showing the ‘surveyors-party workers conflict’ hardly attracted any public condemnation worries me more than the subject of the videos in question. Former minister, GM Gurung being shamed and even terrorized by a young IRB boy in Delhi seemed to confirm my worst fears. An angry boy flanked by a few other colleagues said right to the minister’s face with the video camera capturing the event, “This is not Sikkim. This is Delhi and we rule here!” Who would not have cringed at a video such as this! Times are changing and these are dangerous times indeed. I desperately want my premonition to fall flat.

The teachers and students guilty of conducting a post-poll survey should not be defended if their actions and intentions were wrong. However, until the matter is investigated and final results are out, nobody has the right to humiliate and threaten them. It is high time that Sikkim step back and give a good thought as to how such unrestrained public outrage can be avoided. Make no mistake about it – law and order is on the verge of being completely overturned. No matter how gross the crime is, in a democratic set up people have no business torturing convicted criminals, let alone someone who has simply been accused of committing a crime. There is a prescribed procedure of judging a legal matter, issuing a verdict and sentencing a convict or acquitting him/her. The law must take its course.

Mukund Giri and these students were put through a virtual kangaroo court separately. Every bone in my body resented the manner in which these beleagured individuals were treated. In the case of the mob questioning of the professor, an angry male voice threatened him, “Ma ta budo manchhey bhandina hai” (I will not spare you just because you are old). There was an apparent advancement towards him and Jacob Khaling intervened. Then later in the process, a female voice piped up from the back of the crowd, “You are supposed to be a professor? You are supposed to ‘profess’, not do all these illegal things with girls. What are you doing with girls? Why are you walking around with girls…?” Her tone had rudeness and anger written all over it. Regardless of what the matter is, an angry mob can never substitute law even though human instincts often support the former.
These are frustrations accruing from those who think that they can fix any problem in their own capacity by bypassing the law or freezing it temporarily. This is a pernicious illusion. The danger it poses to society is enormous simply because it will eventually replace the law with violence. That the cinematic protagonism (filmy heropanti) is inapplicable to reality is a no brainer. When every supposed victim is allowed to retaliate against an alleged perpetrator, life becomes mayhem and the earth a madhouse. If one cannot see the abnormality of this, they will have to wait until the shoe is on the other foot.

Ridiculing the human dignity of anyone just because he is alleged to have done something wrong is primitive and crude. How close is ‘mob questioning of a victim’ to ‘mob lynching of a victim’? It is naive to self-soothe, thinking that the tiger that ate my neighbour will spare me. Violence in any form is dangerous not only because it hurts but also because it spreads.

The ‘views and likes’ on social media seem to be egging ‘other-directed people’ on to do whatever appeals to themselves. The increasing popularity gained by social media activism is indicative of a public impatience to wait and a general idleness to investigate. We are a society where people gather in hundreds just to watch the road-roller paving the road. A friend of mine aptly told me that social media activism has now evolved into vigilantism. The vigilantism is carried out by other-directed personalities and our insatiable hunger to see and hear something new is helping feed the fires of vigilantism to spread faster than it can be controlled. In our vulnerability, we have forgotten the need to be analytical, mature and patient. The line of distinction between rumour and facts, idiocy and intelligence, rabble rousing and sound public discourse, leaders and rabble-rousers and instigation and enlightenment has blurred.

The tension between ‘what a party supporter is compelled to believe because of his party affiliation’ and ‘a genuine quest to find out the truth’ has been conveniently ignored. We have been showered with allegation after allegation in the public domain. Verification is not forthcoming. If these unverified speculations expressed in the angriest manner possible are proven to be mere lies, who will take the responsibility of healing public indigestion caused due to heavy doses of restrained lies in the name of politics? How costly will it be for a young Sikkim to face an increasing recalcitrant attitude?

  • Author Jiwan Rai can be contacted at jiwanr@gmail.com

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