News of violence causes much furor. There are rallies and sit-ins, protesting against the violation of human rights and demanding the government punish the culprits immediately. As necessary as that might be to ensure justice, we should perhaps mull over the idea of violence-reduction rather than just reacting to its consequences. A good place to start, I believe, could be each one of us speaking up in situations that might trigger violence.
There is generally an eerie silence around violence until it results in a rape or murder. People would rather turn the other way and walk away than get involved in matters that don’t concern them. A public brawl will draw spectators but no one will try to stop it. We turn a blind eye to domestic violence, terming it ‘buda-budi ko jhagada’—something that must be resolved in private. We make many excuses for men’s acts of violence at home: He must have been stressed, the workload was immense and he snapped, he didn’t know what he was doing because he was drunk, being some of the most absurd yet common ones.
My next-door neighbors are raucous. The father and his two sons get into heated arguments and throw things around. The scathing language they use makes my ears bleed. My husband tells me they have always been nasty. Recently, one of the sons reportedly hit the father before leaving the house in a fit of rage. I’m sure everyone in the neighborhood stops doing whatever it is they were doing and listens in on the drama—there is never such pin-drop silence otherwise—but they all draw their curtains and shut their doors.
While it’s important to be mindful of people’s boundaries, maybe a simple ‘what’s wrong?’ might make these men more conscious of their actions. I think no one, not even the neighbors across the street whom they are super chummy with, ever inquiring about the hullabaloo they create has made them bolder. Their fights have gotten worse and they go on for longer.
Advocate Ishan Raj Onta says intervening is a personal choice and there is no right or wrong. However, as a part of a society that is actively changing, it might be necessary to not let things slide as personal matters in order to stop them from spiraling out of control. Two years ago, Jenny Khadka’s husband threw acid at her because, having had enough of his abuses, she had run away from him. The incident occurred in Kalopul in Kathmandu where her family had been living for years. “There were many people around when my ex-husband was threatening to throw acid at me. Nobody said a word. They just gawked or hurried away. And most of them knew me and my family,” says Jenny.
She says she wished someone would say something. She believes it would have deterred him. The fact that no one spoke gave him courage and made him feel he could get away with it. Jenny suffered 20 percent burns and spent two months at hospital where she underwent nine surgeries. Her story makes me shudder every time I think about it. After Jenny was attacked, no one came to her rescue. It was only after a while that two people helped her: A man gave her a bottle of water to pour over the skin that acid was eating away and a lady passing by on a scooter stopped to see why she was yelling and made arrangements to take her to the hospital. Till then, it was all whispers and surreptitious glances. No one called the ambulance or the police. People watched while she screamed in pain. Doesn’t apathy make us equally guilty of a crime?
Onta says all it takes is for one person to break the silence and more voices will join in. The chain reaction is immense and impactful, he says. He shares a simple incident, as an example. Recently, on the airplane shuttle he was on he saw someone toss a food wrapper on the floor. He could feel many people stiffen but no one said a word. Onta decided to speak up and told the man to pick up his trash. At least five more people supported him. “There will be others like you who will eventually speak up. People tend to hesitate. Someone needs to start and that creates a ripple effect,” he says.
Every society has conflicts, he adds, but how we deal with them is an indicator of how far we have come. Conflict, he says, is a result of low tolerance and little interaction. It can be dealt with in a civilized way, without leading to violence, if people engage in constructive dialogue. But, according to psychologist Minakshi Rana, it’s people’s inability to accept views contrary to their own that prevents effective communication.
Rana adds that ours is a shy society that prefers to keep violence hidden rather than confront it. But that, she says, is a harmful practice. If we let it go on, the anger that simmers underneath will eventually boil over. Talking about my neighbors, the psychologist says the animosity that’s there in the family might spill over elsewhere. Studies have shown that the longer a situation is allowed to escalate the greater the risk that it will result in aggressive behavior and violence.
However, intervening doesn’t necessarily mean self-involvement, as in physically trying to break up the altercation. Onta says you should assess the risk before getting involved, lest you make matters worse. But you can call the police and report the incident. Rana says she has done that quite a few times. Recently, she saw a man beat up a woman in her locality and promptly dialed 100. Actions like these can prevent circumstances from worsening and nip violence in the bud.
We tend to hold the government accountable for everything that happens in our society. And while plans and policies are imperative long-term solutions, individual action is just as essential and could be the key in mitigating violence.