Thursday, November 24, 2005

Irresponsible celebration of wealth and beauty

What kind of a society have we become? Is this the land of spiritualism? Of Hindu tolerance? Of Buddha and Gandhi? In his book, Revenge & Reconciliation: Understanding South Asian History, Rajmohan Gandhi claims that contrary to popular belief that sees India as a haven for the seeker, retribution has been a significant part of our legacy. Starting from the Mahabharata, encompassing events such as the execution of Arjan Dev and Partition to the killing of Indira Gandhi by her bodyguards, bloody revenge has been a strong theme.
In the present set of instances, however, we seem to be faced with a less dramatic and far more commonplace problem of impulse control. How commonplace we do not quite know for information is scarce. But a recent magazine story documented instances of manic rage in children including rapes of infants by teenagers and quoted an Indian Council for Medical Research study that claimed that 12 per cent of Indian children below 16 had behavioural problems. A study of schoolchildren by Vimhans in Delhi and around found aggressive behaviour in 12 per cent of their sample.
Why is all this happening? Exaggerated expectations, peer pressure and warring parents were some of the reasons quoted for aggression among children. The entertainment industry is another common target in the blame game. And it is true that excessive violence in films and cartoons can have the effect of deadening sensibilities and inducing the sort of callousness that we have witnessed rising on an alarming scale. But these are just some of the reasons. In a sense, they are the outcome of changing attitudes and priorities. Is it the entertainment industry, for instance, that is the culprit or is it our excessive need for entertainment that seeks greater and greater stimulation — be it in the body count or in the amount of goriness on screen. Yet self indulgence and excess are glorified in every billboard and television commercial. Similarly over the last few years, the cult of the individual has assiduously and painstakingly been built up along with its emphasis on instant gratification, competitiveness and getting ahead, at whatever cost.
Simultaneously we have seen a build up of intolerance and hatred towards categories of people. The irresponsible celebration of wealth and beauty, for instance, that has the effect of marginalising whole sections of people: the poor, the unfashionable, the old. The demonisation of communities which has spawned a series of violent repercussions. Equally serious is the widespread trivialisation and dumbing down in every area of public life particularly political discourse that sees adults trading insults like juvenile delinquents. There are probably many more complex factors involved in the growing brutalisation evident around us. But these are some of the things we need to think about if this is not the India we are proud of.
The brutalisation of a nation THE INDIAN EXPRESS Thursday, October 24, 2002

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