Societal Hate is Not an Emotion but a Public Health Crisis

Societal Hate is Not an Emotion but a Public Health Crisis

In October 2021, a video surfaced in India which showed a man stomping the body of a Muslim migrant during an eviction drive in the eastern Indian state of Assam. It was learnt that the man had accompanied the local police as the official photographer to videograph the eviction of illegal migrants. The police opened fire on a fleeing Muslim migrant and once he collapsed on the ground, the official photographer stomped the man’s body in a viciously revengeful manner. This act of hate based on religious identity was one of the many such videos which have emerged from various nooks and corners of the country in the last decade or so. Identity-based hate is pervasive in the Indian society.

The hate which can drive a man to stomp the dying or dead body of another human being is beyond imagination. His actions suggest rage. Mad rage. But what was he angry about? Was the Muslim identity of the victim reason enough to be so angry? Or was there something else which we are missing in the conceptual being of our society? Such barbaric violence breeds due to hate and hence it would be imperative to analyze this hatred. Having said this, hatred, of course, is different than anger. Aristotle believed that anger can be cured by time, but hatred cannot. Anger is accompanied by pain, hatred is not.

An analysis of such hatred in Indian society and elsewhere could be very revealing and that is what we intend to do in this paper. Identity-based hatred whether it is against a religion, against a race, a region, a gender or against a caste is not merely an emotion. When it affects large diverse societies like the Indian society, it begins to take the shape of a public health crisis which needs clarity on the causes of its inception, persistence and perpetuation. Following the October 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, USA, Dr Jessica Henderson Daniel, then-president of the American Psychological Association said, “Hate crimes are the most extreme expression of prejudice. Compared to other crimes, hate crimes have a more destructive impact on victims and communities because they target core aspects of our identity as human beings.” We can very well imagine the destructive impact of such crimes in India where religion, caste, gender, region, race, culture or economics can be a reason for targeting a cohort of human beings. Interestingly the word “hate crime” is minimally used in India both in the social and the traditional media.

Hate in society also affects the health of the bystanders besides the hated and the perpetrators. They don’t remain unaffected.

The ethical criticism of such violence and hate needs to be placed within the presumed landscape of India’s historical reality. We have seen that in the last few years incidences of collective hatred and hence collective violence have risen significantly in the country. But our criticism has always maintained that the perpetrators of this violence belonged to a lunatic fringe. We kept asserting that India was the most non-violent country in the world. Sadly, this is far from true. As a society Indians aren’t non-violent. Indians are as violent or cowards- a brutal combination which makes any society vulnerable to propaganda, otherization, hero worship and easy manoeuvrability by those in positions of power and privilege.

Across centuries, communities have often used violence as a potent tool to rule. Violence has been central to the idea of power. The irreducible character of violence in Indian society is best depicted in the idea of the caste system. The spiritual legitimization of something as discriminatory as caste is at the very heart of the structural violence which ails us as a society. Legitimization of hate in India is therefore a sine qua non of collective violence. If caste can thrive unabated for centuries in our society so can the overarching scope for violence and hatred. What we need to analyze is whether the historicity of this hate, especially in the Indian context, has aided its evolution as a disease or worse as a public health crisis. Is there a pandemic of hate against religious minorities, Dalits and other vulnerable sections of the society or is this just a passing trend in the socio-political life of the Indian civilization? The current paper will discuss this with examples from the recent trends of hate in India and elsewhere.

– Yogesh Jain, Shah Alam Khan

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