16-Apr-2006

The South As Foreign Country

From an opinion piece in The Telegraph:
There was bloodshed and loss of life as the inexplicable violence continued for nearly two days. The word “inexplicable” is used advisedly since the occasion was that of mourning. Sorrow-driven violence is not a common cultural phenomenon. Rajkumar had died of natural causes at a ripe old age. Yet there was a bizarre exhibition of popular anger. What were the people angry with? With death, the one thing that is certain in life? Did they expect that the matinee idol would never die? What triggered off the violence? These questions will continue to haunt sociologists and cultural anthropologists who study popular behaviour.
It was inevitable that sociologists and anthropologists were dragged into it. I am surprised that psychiatrists, psychoanalists, historians and others were not.

They need not be. The questions - at least the main question : What triggered off the violence? - can be equally well-addressed by the police and the authorities who were in charge of law and order. As I noted in this post, and as local opinion is stressing, the violence was most probably not the work of fans - at least not to a major extent. To the extent that it was - which could be said of the violence in and around Kanteerava Stadium where the body was kept for public viewing - it was possible to explain it by the ineptitude displayed by the authorities, as this report from DH notes, though troublemakers were probably at work there too. As for the rest, the latter were most likely to be blamed. Deccan Herald - Karnataka's daily - notes as much in this editorial:
Rajkumar held sway over the minds and hearts of the people of the state, and it was only natural that thousands of them turned up to pay their homage to him. The state government and the police should have anticipated the crowd control problems and deployed police personnel in sufficient strength.
...
It is a known fact that rowdy-sheeters and other anti-social elements take advantage of crowds to kill people, loot shops and houses, and set fire to vehicles and shops. As soon as the government received information about the death of Rajkumar, the police ought to have rounded up all rowdy-sheeters in Bangalore. But they did not as they failed to realise the gravity of the situation, though they have in the past — particularly during the period Rajkumar was a hostage of Veerappan — faced trouble from a section of fans and anti-social elements.
I'm not justifying violence by the fans - if it indeed occurred - whatever the pretext, but point it out as a possible explanation of what happened.

It is not surprising though that The Telegraph takes the view that it does. As it notes at the beginning of the article itself:
The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there. Many north Indians feel that the statement would lose none of its significance, if the word “past” were to be substituted by “south”. Such prejudices have perhaps been fortified by what has happened in Bangalore in the aftermath of the death of the famous film star, Rajkumar.
In other words: those crazy southerners.

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