It is not really the day of the Jackal and his ilk, it is simply that violence permeates everyday civic life in India. It is no longer limited to the records totted up on the walls of police stations; it is no longer just a matter of statistics or an image derived from increasing gang rapes and subsequent murders, or even from the steady stream of dowry deaths, honour killings or caste wars. Everyday life in city and country is always edgy, as though the atmosphere is thrumming with a directionless, unreasoning rage that may burst from anyone towards anything at any minute. Nothing else can explain what happened in Dum Dum, West Bengal, when a mob consisting largely of guardians actually attacked and destroyed a school in protest against a girl’s death. Terrified teachers, panic-stricken girls in the hostel and a nervous police force were witness to the viciousness, blind menace and reckless destruction of property that apparently law-abiding, respectable guardians of schoolchildren are capable of. The incident exposed how close to the surface of everyday behaviour violence now lies, and how wide its scope is — turning mothers, fathers, uncles, unemployed young men, owners of nearby shops and other neighbours into a rampaging mob which would not desist until the principal had been arrested after being made to resign.
The child who died — the cause of death was unknown at the time of the protest — had reportedly complained about ragging and extortion by older girls, but not to her teachers. Ragging in schools on a scale that causes extreme fear and depression is a form of violence not so commonly known as the vicious ragging in institutions of higher learning. Violence appears to have penetrated every layer of society and influenced all ages. The illogic is terrifying. The destruction of school furniture, laboratories, machines, files and documents has hurt the students most. The principal was arrested on the mob’s demand, although the police later arrested some parents as well. Their children are in shock, as is the principal’s daughter. The incident symbolizes what constant violence does to the quality of life. Equally disturbing is the response of the West Bengal Association of Christian Schools, which has asked 1,000 schools to remain closed on September 19 in protest. It is a ‘strike’: obviously the rhetoric and practice of violence have left nothing untouched.