Protests, Yes – but why the mob violence?

Violence of any kind is so upsetting to those of us who belong to the health professions and are in the frontline having to deal with the damage done to, more often than not, innocent people

By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

In a recent article titled ‘The Riots Never Ended’ in The Commentary, an American publication, the author Noah Rothman writes:
‘News consumers can be forgiven for assuming that the unrest in America’s cities that erupted after George Floyd’s death had largely abated. Media’s coverage of that lawlessness has certainly ebbed, but, as events in Chicago on Sunday night demonstrated, the organized assaults on American cities did not.

‘The story in Chicago is now a familiar one. Police officers responded to a Sunday afternoon call about an armed man in the city’s Englewood neighborhood. A scuffle broke out. Police were shot at, and they returned fire. The suspect, who was wounded, was taken into custody.’

Chicago Riots. Photo – wgntv.com

And he goes on to describe how shortly afterwards a mob started to gather, seemingly spontaneously, but the fact that vans and other vehicles came in with arms and other equipment, and mayhem followed with pelting, arson and looting of shops that were broken into suggested that this assault was more likely an orchestrated one. Similar scenes were seen in other cities in the US in the immediate aftermath of the Floyd George incident in Minneapolis, such as in New York where streets with high-end shops were pillaged by marauding mobs.

Chicago is considered to be the most violent city in the US and I learnt this as far back as 1979, when I was attending a revision course for my final exam in surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. The surgeon who gave us the lecture on abdominal injuries had spent a year at the Cook County Hospital in Chicago, which dealt with practically all the trauma cases that resulted from the endemic violence in the city.

Under normal civilian conditions the worse types of injuries that we encounter as surgeons are those from road accidents. They are bad enough, and it’s a tough call trying to save lives and limbs. Fortunately, I must say, I have never worked in zones of the type of violence seen in war or when mobs rampage with lethal weapons. But I can imagine the nightmare that colleagues face as they battle to repair mangled bodies, and feel for them.

That is why violence of any kind is so upsetting to those of us who belong to the health professions and are in the frontline having to deal with the damage done to, more often than not, innocent people.

Even as I was writing these lines came the news of another rampage, this time in the ‘silicon valley’ city of India, Bengaluru, generally known for its IT hub and as a garden city as I saw for myself when I visited there in 1967 during my student days, and again in 2009 with family – though the scene had changed, in Cubbon’s Park for example, which had contracted in size because of buildings that were not there during my first trip.

I was pained to see the visuals on Indian TV channels, and scanned the coverage in the print media to gain some understanding of what was happening. And what I read were echoes of the reflections made by Noah Rothman about the situation in the US. Thus, one headline read ‘The Bengaluru riots point towards a well-planned conspiracy, not a spontaneous reaction’ and the sub-heading was, almost predictably, ‘There is an attempt from some quarters to drive the narrative of it being a spontaneous act’.

Chigago Riots. Photo – static01.nyt.com

And next we read, ‘a huge mob assembled were hurling stones at Akhanda Srinivasa Murthy’s home (NB: a Congress MLA) and setting it on fire. They also attacked fire engines that rushed to the spot. Thereafter they barged into KG Halli Police Station, the local police station. Setting two vans parked there on fire, they began attacking the police station. Not stopping at that, the mob indulged in violence against the cops and media too’.

Further on, a more graphic account: ‘… a mob gathered with bottles filled with petrol, diesel, kerosene and stones and at first arrived and attacked the Congress MLAs house’, and then the sequence of the attacks: ‘They attack legislator’s house; set fire to police van; vandalise and set fire to police station; lock up DCP who went there to pacify the mob (as informed to media by Minister A Ashoka); setting DCP’s car on fire; fearing reprisals and police reinforcements arriving, attack police quarters; erect barricades to block roads; continuous stoning; another attempt to vandalise KG Halli Police Station’.

To other commentators, this was a replica of what happened in New Delhi when President Donald Trump visited last year, and as police investigations are now revealing that was well planned in advance, with the involvement and active support of a local politician whose own terrace was used to stock material that was used by the rioters. On the terrace were set up makeshift catapults that were used to launch incendiary bombs on the neighbourhood houses.

Coming back to Bengaluru, the same interrogations are being raised: ‘What was the provocation for this incident? What was the background? Who was the architect behind this mindless act? What were their objectives? Was it spontaneous or pre-planned?’

And to those who want ‘to drive the narrative of it being a spontaneous act’, ‘a simple question’ is asked of them: ‘If their (i.e. the mobsters’) anger was against Congress MLA, why were they asking names of people going on the streets and also attacking police station? Why are police department targeted? Despite violence and destruction of properties everywhere, how is it that there was none in the residential areas of miscreants?’

And: ‘What was the basic trigger? A Facebook post – Seriously? All this violence for a Facebook post? It is here that it takes a different turn’. And a more searching remark: ‘Despite all these, if anyone still thinks this violence was spontaneous, and the result of a trivial Facebook post, one has to be very naïve and needs to view the world a bit more intelligently’.

It won’t surprise if the police investigations in this yet another troubling incident will reveal patterns linked to the Delhi riots, but whether as in the case of the US, it will be for India too ‘The riots that never ended’ is an issue which the authorities will have to tackle on practically a war footing, that is, preparedness and swinging into immediate action.

On a more positive note

The élan de solidarité nationale (national solidarity spirit) that has brought all Mauritian citizens together in a collective effort to deal with the oil spill from MV Wakashio. Though I had to perforce curb the enthusiasm of a 45-year old who went with like-minded friends to Blue Bay on Sunday, setting off before dawn from Curepipe to help mop up the oil, etc. He toiled till past midday – and next morning he got up with a painful, stiff back: recurrence of the symptoms that he had seen me for and had to be admitted almost a year ago. Fortunately, it was not the same disc problem, but he still needed treatment and rest.

May that spirit spread and endure!


* Published in print edition on 11 August 2020

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