This is why peaceful citizens turn into an angry mob

Jan 12, 2015, 14:36 IST | Sadaguru Pandit

To understand reason behind recent incidents of violence in Mumbai, mid-day talks to experts in the field of psychology and law enforcement to find out how an individual becomes part of a mob

The recent mob violence at Diva railway station and a near-riot in Lalbaug over a minor bike accident are some of the instances that show how, in a matter of a few seconds, peace-loving, law-abiding individuals lose their power of reasoning and resort to violence when they are part of a group.

Experts believe that in a crowd, individuals find it easier to vent out their personal frustration. File pics
Experts believe that in a crowd, individuals find it easier to vent out their personal frustration. File pics

For decades, psychologists across the globe have developed theories explaining the dynamics of crowd psychology, better known as mob mentality. mid-day spoke to specialists and judicial experts to understand the ‘group mind’ and why the mentality of a group vastly differs from the citizens within that group.

Experts agree that de-individualisation is the main reason behind mob mentality. An individual, who is otherwise constrained by laws of society and judiciary, feels unconstrained when he loses his individuality in a mob.

Dr Varkha Chulani, clinical psychologist and psychotherapist, explained the concept of ‘comfort in crowd’, “The animal instinct of an individual, which is otherwise suppressed as he doesn’t have the courage to bring it out on his own, finds it easier to unleash in a group of people reacting the same way.”

She added that under normal circumstances, people fear being noticed if they behave obnoxiously, but not in a group. Psychologists also pointed out that suppressed emotions induced by unfair behaviour of society, government or judiciary also makes people behave violently.

“Individuals go about their lives carrying the baggage of being victimised in situations or instances in their past. Unable to vent it out or failure to accept the facts, they feel emotionally trapped. It only takes a trigger to join a herd that is on a destructive spree.

Since the fear of being penalised is less, you feel it is a safe situation to vent out your own emotions,” said Dr Sadia Raval, founder and chief psychologist of Inner Space, a psychological counselling and assessment centre. When asked about a solution to avoid or contain these situations, Dr Raval said that it has to be dealt with, on both individual and social levels.

“Compassion is the key in a situation of riot. One has to accept certain facts and incidents, and if they can’t, they should at least try and talk to their friends and family about it. On the social level, society has to learn to accept every group and community, without sidelining them, which usually causes unrest or divide.”

A few bad men
Dhananjay Kamlakar, joint commissioner of police, law and order, believes that in case of riots, it is only a fraction of people who tend to drive and manipulate the entire group to act in a certain manner. “Only 5 per cent of the people direct the mob to do destructive things. In situations like these, even we can’t resort to violence, as it can have grave repercussions.

Therefore, we try to single out the drivers of the mob, because they are the ones who push innocent minds to do their work.” Talking about ways to deal with such issues, experts say that one should focus on their own reasoning power and individual thinking process to talk themselves out from being a part of the mob.

“Schools, colleges, and universities are places where young and enterprising minds can build our future. We need to imbibe in them that the past is history. We cannot hang around historical references of injustice and keep thinking of seeking vengeance for it.

People should also understand that one incident between two or more individuals is not an attack on the entire community or ethnicity,” said professor Gautam Gawli, head of department of Applied Psychology & Counselling, University of Mumbai. He added that the key to curbing such incidents is by bringing forward individuals who have overcome communal differences and brought the society forward as one.

“Children lead by example. Professors and teachers of every college and school should imbibe the value of togetherness, which was held close by the brilliant personalities of our past. This is the only way we can strengthen our mind enough to be able to reason out and think even when everyone around us is getting violent,” he concluded.

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