It was sultry summer afternoon in Delhi. My job, located in the northern part of the city had me keeping watch over the men’s public toilet in the area. It was easy enough. People came, did their business and went their way. I mostly met the local rickshaw pullers who sometimes would make small talk and spit the tobacco they were chewing on the sides making me snap at them. It was a familiar feeling. Comfortable, mostly. Across the road my mother sat watching the women’s public washroom. We would exchange amused glances every now and then on spotting a drunk entering the premises. They would inevitably trip and fall leading to raucous laughter from the others.
I chuckled, getting up to help the man this afternoon. He was an old man. From his rapid muttering I ascertained he was bitter. It was nonetheless hilarious. The sudden waft of air blew a cloud of smoke and acrid smell into my nose. I looked around. Spotting the neatly dressed men in the back huddled together at the epicenter of the smoke, I realized that drugs were being passed around. I deliberated a moment. They looked like they belonged to a student group, a political one. I had been warned to keep away from those.
It didn’t deter me though. I approached them casually, politely asking them to refrain from drug consumption since it was a public area. They looked at me, four of them towering around my slender frame. Grabbing me by the scruff, the tallest one asked, “Who do you think you are? You think you can tell us what to do? You low caste scum. Mind your own business.”
At this point a crowd began to gather around us. Another boy from group nudged my assailant from the side, hurriedly asking him to leave before the situation got out of hand. Relief surged through my body with equal amounts of contentment as I watched their backs receding into the masses. I looked around with gratitude at my silent comrades, a little happy about having done my job well.
In the evening, my mom, whose shift ended a couple of hours earlier handed me food and set off for home. Between the looks of worry on her face, I also saw pride. She headed back promising me a sumptuous meal after my shift. I sat down elated. Two hours passed without much activity. As the darkness set in, the crowd around the area thinned. My shift was almost done and I didn’t notice the group of four men from the afternoon approaching. I felt a sudden pain in my abdomen. Before I could react someone covered my mouth. “You piece of shit. All you’re worth is cleaning toilets. You were put here to pick up our shit. How dare you talk to us like an equal? This is a lesson, for you and all those like you. This a lesson that you should learn to keep quiet or we’ll make you do it.”
I heard whispers and murmurs around me as spectators gathered to watch the mutilation of my body. One blow at a time, I felt the life ooze out of me. There was a sacred distance between my assailants and the audience that no one dared to cross. It was as if those comrades I thanked earlier were complicit in the horror that was being perpetrated on me. They wrote the end to my story, in hues of saffron and ruby, they stabbed me as much as those four guys. As the darkness took over I wondered what my mother would think when I didn’t come home for dinner.
If there is one thing the entire world agrees upon it is that man’s primal urges are the same as any beast. It is in humanity’s nature to wage war against and upon things. The weather patterns in your city are most likely telling you the consequences of mankind’s war with nature. The newspaper filled with gory details carries home little notes every morning documenting the struggle of mortals, against ‘other’ mortals.
Where does this obsession with violence come from? Is it inherent? Or is it external? The nature versus nurture debate has been pivotal to the development of philosophical thought. An Investment Banker by day, a seemingly functional human being, Patrick Bateman is a serial killer. He hides his violence in plain sight by making jokes about it that no one believes. A boring, predictable employee, his secret life is a cathartic expurgation of rage that he accumulates due to his inability to transcend his defined social role. He needs an outlet to create a rupture in order to feel in control of his identity. Another universal facet of humanity is its need to feel in control at any given point in time. The fight then, is external. It is our environment; our surroundings that ultimately lead to the perpetration of violence. From innocuous things like Google chrome’s notification to ‘kill’ unresponsive pages to aestheticization of violence in the cinematic experience, everything is pushing us towards the edge.
There is an unsaid acceptance when violence in such situations is enacted. It is the acceptance of society, which considers itself the collective arbiter condemning those that do not comply with its norms. Recall the Orlando Shootout from 2016? It was the hate crime that killed innocents who did not belong in the normative gender spectrum. Moreover take for instance the lynching of Pehlu Khan in Rajasthan, the accused have been absolved of their crime, for their crime was not against society, it was against the individual.
If we extend the argument that societies comply together in perpetrating and perpetuating such actions, we have to factor in the idea of state sanctioned/directed violence. Ethnic cleansing (examples abound from the Holocaust in Germany to genocide in Rwanda and most recently in the neighboring Myanmar) is this tacit agreement where the dominant sections collaborate (whether actively or passively) in the elimination of the minority of ‘others.’
Violence is the means to assert control, over resources, over spaces or over people. It is the currency of exchange in a society that believes its collective identity is supreme in its estimation and superior in its manifestation. It is a cry for dominance that will destroy any dissent in its path. There is a need for revision before this terrible beauty consumes the world to create a society with no freedom or agency.
(Although fictional, references have been made in this article to actual events that have occured. It attempts to analyse society’s role in creating violent individuals and the impunity with which they commit such heinous acts.
Patrick Bateman is a character from American Psycho, 2000)