Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Middle class perceptions of threat

" Police mulling over increasing security cover for XYZ and ABC"- something that comes in the paper frequently.

In place of XYZ and ABC substitute the name of anyone from the industrial-bollywood-political complex. The infinite combination of names is enough to make the common middle class Indian cower , busy as he is, shielding himself from droughts, bomb blasts, floods, landslides, taxes, job losses, medical bills, school and college admissions and so on.

According to psychologist Daniel Gilbert of Harvard, the main features of a threat perception are , that they are a product of human intention, they violate our moral sensibilities, they represent an immediate problem, and they appear suddenly or grow rapidly.

By this definition, the bomb blasts qualify. If we interpret human intention as global warming, even the floods and droughts qualify. The farmer suicides violate my moral sensibilities. Those people who sell drugs are then also a threat on all four counts. The kings of corruption also force themelves into consideration , whether its being done with finesse or blatant disregard, like they do for educational admissions sometimes. Land sharks, who sell shanty glamour to those smitten by the lights of Mumbai, exploit their tenants, and kill any decent human beings who try to help, are to me, the highest form of threat .

Maybe its just me who percieves these as threats. Its probably just a middle class way of looking at things.

And so we have leaders who refuse to step out without 35 policemen , rifles-ready, distributed in 4 cars , that buzz around everywhere the leader wants to go. An actor wants to attend a felicitation for being a brand ambassador of something that costs a few lakhs (" a pittance , you know"), and our diligent law enforcement agencies rush in to enhance protection. A general gradation of protection, ensures that someone or the other always hankers for extra stuff. Its like a child who played tennis-ball cricket being shown a season ball ; getting it , then becomes paramount.

The question is , does the common man like you and me fit in anywhere?

What about the perception of threat faced by young girls residing in slums ? What about the perceptions of threat faced by a new bride, who is constantly berated for not bringing in sufficient dowry ? What about the very high perception of threat , faced by senior citizens staying alone ? What about the very real perception of threat faced by a woman found expecting a female child , and being forced to do something about it ?

What about the perception of threat by a student , reeling under the pressure of obtaining a successful result in an examination, and having doubts about the outcome ? What about the perception of threat by a young girl, who has spurned unwelcome advances , and faces disfigurement by acid, because of criminal gutless behaviour on the part of a maladjutsed youth ?

Have we done anything about this?

Yes. We have seen Terrorism at its worst. Visible enhanced police presence for some who are more equal than others seems to be the way we handle the problem. And , while in some cases this may be the most sensible solution, in many cases its a knee-jerk reaction where we fail to analyse why the person is considered a target in the first place.

Time was when , in those enchanting televisionless days, as kids, we saw Panditji unfurling the Flag, when they showed the Independence day celebrations in the Indian News Revew, in cinema halls. He stood tall , proud, and imposing ,in solitary splendour and every schoolkid was so impressed. Today, any school kid can identify the tall smart people standing dispersed amongst the crowd on the dias, eyes darting, sometimes staring straight ahead, but looking elsewhere, hands on their pockets.

There was just one man, who feared none; probably faced threats, but percieved none; and he led us to our Independence, along with many like him. He faced bullets. I wonder what he would have thought of us, close to 60 years down the line .

1 comment: