Often sitting in my fifth floor balcony I see flocks of pigeons flying helter-skelter while a couple of eagles make quick circles around the building trying to catch a meal or two. This is a regular phenomena. Each time I go to the balcony, there is a chance that I will bear witness to the hunter-and-the-hunted drama.
Incidentally, recently I also saw a crow chasing away an eagle despite the big size difference, but that’s another issue.
Anyway, I was thinking, what if all the pigeons join forces and directly confront the eagle instead of running for their lives? Surely they don’t have the big and strong beaks and the talons that eagles have. Their wings are smaller. Even if one of them crashes head-on into the eagle it is not even going to make the big bird flinch. But what if collectively they bang into the eagle? Even if they cannot take it down, they can surely scare it away.
The predator works on the psychology that the ones who are being hunted are never going to mount a collective attack. They will run here and there. They won’t come to each other’s rescue – each to himself or herself. Of course the predator is physically stronger but the animals it is trying to hunt down are greater in number. Whether it is a pack of lions running behind a herd of buffaloes or a crocodile trying to grab a wildebeest, they are stronger, more ferocious, fearless and habitually combative, but on the other hand, the buffaloes and the wildebeests are greater in number – in fact buffaloes are stronger than lions. They don’t realise that.
When Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh guru chanted “Chidiyon se main baaj ladaun” he must have actually meant that great many sparrows can chase away a kite. Animals don’t know that, that there is strength in numbers. They also don’t know that the predator uses fear psychosis as a weapon against them. The mere fact that every animal is trying to save his or her own life rather than defending each other turns them into helpless victims.
Even humans, although intellectually more developed compared to animals (even the most illiterate and backward human beings) don’t understand the power of unity and confronting the predator in a collective manner. I think of this when Dalits are tortured by just a handful of upper castes, or when bahubalis or local goons bully civilians.
Just like animals everybody wants to save himself or herself and hence wants to distance himself or herself from the person who is currently being targeted. This not only perpetuates the problem, it also creates a more dangerous environment for people who are not coming to the rescue of those being tormented.
The problem is, such a problem cannot be tackled by a single person. Suppose you’re travelling in a train and a group of six rowdies are harassing a girl. You want to interfere but you don’t. There are 60 other passengers on the train but nobody comes forward. Everybody thinks, why should I be the only one to endanger my life? Everybody’s survival instinct takes over at that time and this is natural. After all when you’re risking your life, when you get injured, maimed or killed, it’s not just you who are affected, your entire family is affected. So this is something that holds everybody back. Nobody wants to stick his or her neck out and get it chopped off. Even when someday we ourselves can become the targets of such rowdies, we won’t take the initiative because right now we are safe and that’s the only thing that matters. I think that is quite natural.
Another problem is, you can’t assume that your act of bravado will encourage other passengers or motivate them into action (I’m not saying it cannot happen altogether, but in most of the recent cases highlighted in the media and on the Internet, this hasn’t happened, unfortunately). They might think that you are such a fool and you have deserved whatever befalls upon you once you try to interfere and come to the rescue of the hapless girl. You might get stabbed, thrown off the train or join the ranks of the girl and get sexually abused yourself.
Perpetrators, knowingly or unknowingly, acknowledge this fact. They know that people are not going to interfere. They know that people are going to feel scared. They know that even if somebody takes initiative, the rest won’t follow suit and hence that person will be easily subdued or taken down. In fact it would be a good opportunity to set an example – see?, this happens when you try to be too smart.
They know that they have an upper hand. This fills them with further strength, both physical as well as mental. Although they might also carry weapons and this further gives them an upper hand, but weapons are of no use if they know that they themselves might get killed or maimed for life in one way or another. They are so sure of receiving no harm while carrying out their predatory act that they will commit again and again without giving a second thought.
I remember once I was watching a serial on TV and the main character finds himself surrounded by multiple ruffians on an isolated road. He tells those ruffians that he is pretty sure that they are going to kill him, but they should know that whoever among them approaches him first he is surely going to kill him. Nobody knows who is going to die, but everybody is unnerved. There is so much conviction in that boy’s declaration that they believe him. The fact that he knows that he’s not going to survive and hence he’s no longer scared of dying, and now that he’s going to die, he is going to make sure that whoever reaches him first dies with him acts as a great deterrence. Nobody comes to attack him. He survives unscathed.
Two things act in his favour: the ruffians know that he is no longer scared of dying and when a person is not scared of you, you don’t feel powerful. The second is, they themselves are fully exposed to the danger of dying. Here they had come to kill a lonely person feeling all powerful and then all of a sudden they neither find this person cowering in front of them nor they find themselves safe. All of a sudden there’s a chance of one of them dying. Whoever approaches him first dies, so who would like to take a chance? When it comes to death, nobody wants to take a chance. No matter how secure or powerful you feel, you never know, freak incidents happen and everybody knows that they happen. The fear and the sense of vulnerability has been reversed.
This is not a real situation and it might be very difficult for a person to confront a group of six ruffians like this. But it is certainly a good example of how you can turn the tables by making them feel just as they want their victims to feel: scared and vulnerable.
The moment you make your tormentors feel unsafe, they no longer feel powerful. They know that whenever they do something, they will have to bear the brunt. And that brunt has to feel real bad. You have to drive in the point that if you mess with me, you’re going to get screwed big-time.
I haven’t actively thought about this psychology of common people not helping each other. Why don’t people come together and hit back hard? What stops them? When a Dalit is tortured and publicly humiliated, why don’t they get hold of an upper caste person and carry out the same act of torture and public humiliation? Why don’t they burn down upper caste villages if lower caste and Dalit villages are burnt? Why don’t they poison the wells from where they are not allowed to draw water? Why don’t they beat up teachers who mistreat their kids in schools? Why don’t they retaliate in such a manner that their perpetrators have to think twice before carrying out their acts of oppression? Why doesn’t a mob of common folks chase criminals on the streets and gets rid of them for good?
I know this is not an ideal suggestion and people might say you shouldn’t take law into your own hands, but this is a stupid argument. Why does law and its various concepts come to fore when a predator, a strong person is targeted?
The greatest weakness of a common person is he or she perpetually finds himself or herself fighting a lone battle. Perpetrators are never alone. They always move around and hunt in groups or packs. That’s their strength. The one being targeted is alone. That is his or her biggest weakness.