OURS is a society that is becoming more violent by the day. Forget militants, terrorists, psychopaths or hardened criminals. What we are talking about here are otherwise ordinary people who suddenly succumb to inexplicable rage, sometimes with fatal results. Fists come into play when a few sharp words may suffice.
People are shot dead in altercations on the road, just because a car may have bumped into another. Homeless persons and nightwatchmen are bludgeoned to death, for no apparent reason, as they sleep in the street or on the job. Brutal domestic violence against women and children is all too common. Transvestites walking the streets have been gunned down, possibly for sport or from some other equally macabre incentive.
In November 2006, a woman and her teenaged son were strangled to death in Lahore because they failed to pay their cable company on time. Rejected marriage proposals are met with acid attacks by ‘disheartened’ suitors. Disputes over noise or a cricket match can lead to pitched battles and murder.
On Tuesday, a man along with his accomplices reportedly entered a house in Pakpattan district in Punjab, doused a six-month-old baby with kerosene and set him alight. The infant died. The motive behind this ghastly crime? The baby’s father owed one of the attackers Rs5,000 and had been unable to repay the debt. Burning a child to death was the response deemed necessary by the ‘aggrieved’ party.
Some men, and fewer women, are inherently prone to violence but they are few and far between. Sudden rage is something entirely different and is now afflicting more and more people. The root cause is despair and hopelessness, the feeling that taking a life is justified either because of some warped interpretation of honour or because life is not worth living in the first place.
When mouths can’t be fed, when bosses are brutes, when the environment is poisoned, when there is no electricity for hours on end and no water for days, ordinary people can sometimes lose their senses completely. Violent reactions to frustration and privation cannot be justified of course. But we must ask ourselves what we have become and where we are going.