Violence and Values: What violence can teach us about civilization.

In his article “Should Ajmal Kasab be hanged?” Aakar Patel observes:

 “Like all primitive societies, Indians seek closure through violence, preferably participative. We do this now and then, as we shall see, and in that sense we are like central Africans, who are not completely civilised, but must be acknowledged as such because of European guilt…Our defense is that other cultures are also violent. We could point to European murder, of course. But theirs is the anonymous slaughter of the B-52 bomb and the Predator missile strike. The Indian, like the African, prefers a more personalized entertainment.”

I can’t speak about Subsaharan Africa, but Patel raises an interesting point regarding the pattern of violence employed in India. Every society has an appetite for violence and the manner in which this appetite is sated speaks to that society’s level of civilization. The Romans preferred murder in the context of sport and within the controlled environment of the gladiatorial arena. The Arena possibly served a cathartic function where society would purge its blood lust in an environment where the violence itself would be contained. Roman soldiers were famed for their stoicism as they engaged in brutal melee. The Mayans had ritualized violence in the form of Human sacrifices to their chief deity Kukulkan, whose thirst for human blood was a mandatory upkeep in exchange for divine favour. Lest we think the Mayans too barbaric let me also point out that Mayan emperors themselves would participate in bloodletting rituals such as piercing their own penises to satisfy the gods. Brutal, but surprisingly fair. The Samurai saw violence as a means to an end, and the ends were diverse. One could shed blood to increase the honour of one’s lord, or one could dedicate one’s life to becoming a sword Saint; pursuing enlightenment through the path of the sword.

Today, western violence (in context of warfare) is anonymous and very mechanized. Targets are selected strategically and the ensuing violence flows as smoothly as an algorithm. In comparison to western organized violence, one observes a disturbing trend among the Indians. Like the Pre Islamic Arabs, Indians are a tribal people that feel the need to avenge any perceived injustice. In Pre-Islamic Arabia, if a member of tribe A killed a member of tribe B, then tribe B would retaliate by killing somebody (not necessarily the killer)from A. Religious riots in India begin the same way. If a Muslim kills a Hindu, Hindu mobs retaliate by killing any Muslim (Man, woman, or child) that comes their way. During the Gujarat riots of 2002, Hindutva mobs cut open pregnant women and ripped out the foetuses before murdering the women; often in front of family members. For further details you might read this report on the Human rights watch website.

This is what makes Indians so different from other people: that unless the Indian personally bathes his hands in the blood of his enemies, he is not satisfied. I recall an incident during the aforementioned riots where a Muslim woman pleaded with a Hindu mob for mercy, offering them all the money she had. The group trampled her money and cut her down where she stood. This is the face of the Indian mobster (whether Hindu, Muslim, or Sikh): it is a force of nature and is not entirely human; which is why the use of pronouns to describe it would be redundant. It cannot be reasoned with, it cannot be bargained with, and it will not cease until it kills you. It is pure instinct. In its eyes one glimpses a portal back in time to witness the primordial savagery of our feral ancestors; an animal rage that civilization sought to suppress. Yet Indian civilization has failed in even that and it was this savagery that visited Punjabi Hindus during the 1947 partition of India. Punjabi Muslims drove out their Hindu neighbours by painting the soil of Punjab red with Hindu blood. Disturbingly enough, once the riots are over the rioters go back to their daily lives as if the carnage never occurred. Even more disturbing is the fact that South Asian society loses no sleep over the thought of mass killers roaming free in their midst. South Asian culture isn’t merely backward (which would be a step up), but downright primitive. It produces human beings with a barely functioning moral compass that are driven by instinct and impulse instead of rational thought and agency.

All of this raises a number of questions, but the one that has me preoccupied is this: Is mechanized violence the product of a hyper individualist/atomized culture and are tribal cultures more susceptible to chaotic mob type violence? I would assume that an atomized society would produce disconnected individuals participating in disconnected violence. However I am not an expert on violence and its effects on society so I welcome your feedback.

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