Violence, Shaming and the Bangali Psyche
It has been estimated that almost 3 crore people in this country use the social media site Facebook. In a country where starvation, landlessness and extreme poverty are still very, very prevalent, the use of technology, especially smart phones with internet, has proliferated at a rather surprising rate. Although it does not by any means encapsulate the entirety of the nation, social media does still play an integral part in the bubbles of connectivity in urban spaces, especially among the bored middle and upper middle-classes who show a remarkable dexterity in uploading pictures of their lunch and then denouncing this morally ragged generation who don't seem to like playing outside.
The ways in which social media has helped construct our sense of selves is closely linked to the kinds of activities we engage in it. On March 13, a video was uploaded to Facebook which showed a young man called Xunaed repeatedly hitting another young man named Nurullah. The bone of contention seemed a little confusing but revolved around comments made by the one about a woman they were both acquainted with. In the space of a few hours, the video was shared over a hundred thousand times and everyone chimed in to express their opinions on the matter. The first question we might ask is, why in the world are Bangladeshis so obsessed with this? Well, for one, no one seemed to have given them the memo about the protests against Rampal coal plant that stands to decimate our biodiversity and the ecology of the Sundarbans. Nor were they notified of the systematic disintegration of indigenous lands. But there's something about two kids fighting that seems to have captured the imagination of the urban class like nothing else.
The incident and subsequent reaction bring to fore several critical issues about the Bangali (not to be confused with Bangladeshi) psyche, notwithstanding blind ignorance to socio-political issues. The young man doing the hitting in the video sought not only to seek retribution through violence but also appeared to be asserting his own brand of masculinity via various threats. The reaction to this video was not only deplorable, but it was also sadly very predictable. Just in the case of the Rajon murder case where comments ranged from not only the gruesome ways in which the Facebook population would maim and torture the killers, but also on how they would also sexually assault their mothers and other female relatives to teach them a lesson.
For once, let us admit that Rajon's death or Xunaed's masculinity are not exceptions. They are the normative expressions that masculinity finds in a society that suffers from political, economic and sexual repression. What the Bangali men saw on Facebook was the exaggerated version of their own selves and values. And I can make this claim because of the ways in which we responded - by imagining first, bodily violence against the perpetrator Xunaed, which included incidents of sexual assault, and secondly, by somehow deciding the girl was to blame and shaming her publicly. In a roundabout manner, we resorted to the blatant chauvinism that the video showed. And it is particularly telling why the urban psyche was enchanted by a viral video of a beating as opposed to videos of protests against the Rampal coal plant. It simply resonated more with the kind of deep-rooted patriarchy that the men feel - that they would be the ones to single-handedly bring justice. And, much like the Rajon case and the Narayanganj murder images that circulated Facebook, the solutions remained local - on the individual who transgressed morality and not the education system or rampant misogyny in the household. Not once did we decide to sit down and initiate a dialogue on what leads a person to perform in the ways that they did and heaven forbid we attack the ideas instead of the person. Watching an act of violence and condemning it with further violence is the paradoxical response of a country mired in misogyny.
In the end, this video, too, will be lost in a growing collection of violent videos and images that circulate on social media and people will have moved on. One relatively small instance of violence proved to be the rupture through which several core characteristics of the Bangali psyche came to the forefront. Could this finally be the time where the men look at themselves reflexively to really think about their actions?
The writers is a freelance journalist and activist.