Wanton violence

Stern action should be taken against the group of students and others who set four bogies of the Delhi-Patna Shramjivi Express on fire after an altercation with personnel of the Railway Protection Force (RPF) at Bihta near Patna. It appears that the students had not bought tickets and were trying to forcibly occupy reserved seats in the AC coaches. Angry at being asked to get off the train, they set it on fire. This is the second time in three months that students in Bihar have burned trains to vent their anger. RPF personnel have promised action against those who participated in the burning of the train. It remains to be seen whether they follow up on this. Similar incidents in the past have seen the guilty use their political influence to get off the hook.

Pelting of stones and burning private and public vehicles has become a common way to protest in India. Little thought is given to the loss of life and property that is the result of such violence. The burning of four AC coaches of a train will cost the Railways Rs 3.5 crore. In a country where infrastructure is already inadequate, its wanton destruction by hooligans is unacceptable. Whatever their grievance, however genuine their cause, violence and destruction of property is not an acceptable form of protest. In May, when a Dera leader was killed in Vienna, angry Dera activists in Punjab went berserk and burned down trains, buses and police stations. During the Gujjar protests too, public property worth crores of rupees was deliberately destroyed. Karnataka too has suffered grievously because of such violent protests. There is a perception in this country that violent protest is a legitimate form of airing grievance. Protest is understandable but unleashing violence, killing people and destroying property is not tenable.

If the magnitude and frequency of violence and destruction of property has grown in India, this is partly because action is rarely taken against those who engage in such activity. More importantly, authorities seem to respond only to violence. Peaceful forms of protest are often ignored. The government has paid little heed to the issues raised in non-violent protests by activists like Irom Sharmila, for instance. This sends out a wrong message to the public. It encourages people to burn trains and buses to press their demands.

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