Saturday, 21 July 2012

Understanding the psychology of mob behaviour: A case on Maruti mob attack (July 2012)

Burnt and vandalised cars left in the 
Manesar plant of Maruti

 It was a black day for the industrial community in India, the day when a young HR personnel at the rank of a GM suffocated to death in his office due to a fire put on by workers, who had no respect for law or order, least to say any worth for human life. Media reports also stated that the same person was first beaten up by the workers with steel rods and blunt auto parts, which resulted in multiple fractures in both legs, thereby making the person an easy prey to the engulfing inferno. Left to perish, with no help in sight, he finally succumbed to his injuries and was reported death by suffocation along with 100% burnt.

This was no one-off incident, which took place in a factory in the depth of rural India – away from the civilized urban world. Unfortunately, this incident took place in the very heart of civilization within 50 kms from Delhi NCR in Maruti Suzuki’s plant in Manesar – one of the fastest growing industrial townships in North India. And, this GM was not the only prey in this mob-frenzy that broke out that day, in that doomed Maruti plant. Some 40 other executives, many of them at the ranks of GM and some at the ranks of VP were predated upon by hordes of workers, with little knowledge of what they were up to.

The above-cited incident reflects on to an action, which can be commonly termed as mob-attack. Let’s first try to understand the meaning of the term ‘mob.’ A mob is a crowd of people with no defined objective, although the group is big, most-often leader-less and highly emotionally charged. What starts off as a systematic protest, in the above case, by a trade union, actually moves on to become a disoriented, mass movement, with a goal to cause unwanted destruction of life and property.  

According to social psychologists, there are various factors, which come into play when the term mob mentality or mob behaviour is referred to. Two of the main factors are the greater anonymity that exists within a group and the distribution of responsibility for the group's actions. These factors sometimes make a person believe that they can act a certain way within a group and not have the same consequences that the same actions would have if he or she acted alone. For example, if a person is in a group that is vandalizing a building, he or she might believe that there is less of a chance of getting caught than if he or she was acting alone, because it might be difficult to identify every person who was involved. He or she might also feel less guilt because other people also vandalized the property.
Another factor in mob mentality is the sense of confusion or even panic that can exist in a large group. An example of this can be seen when people in crowds suddenly begin rushing in one direction. Although many people in the group might not know why this is happening, they see the urgency in the group and begin rushing in that direction, too. In extreme cases, the urgency and panic increases, creating a sort of crowd hysteria, and some people might even get trampled as a great number of people try to move in the same direction as quickly as possible. Even for something as seemingly innocent as a department store sale, a mob mentality might be evident as dozens of shoppers rush toward the sale items, push each other out of the way and fight over the items.

According to Floyd Allport (1924), noted social psychologist, "there is no psychology of groups which is not essentially and entirely a psychology of individuals". When it come to collective action, Allport declared, still more famously: "the individual in the crowd behaves just as he would behave alone only more so". Crowd members lose their unique and idiosyncratic identities and behave in terms of a primitive animal substrate.

Crowd members who take part in violent action or action against the social order might be expected to have violent or anti-social personalities - or, at the very least, to be under- socialised or marginal to society. As the official US Riot Commission report of 1968 acknowledged, the most prevalent view was that "rioters were criminal types, overactive social deviants or riff-raff - recent migrants, members of an uneducated underclass - alienated from the society." Drawing analogy to the incident that took place at Maruti with the commentaries shared above, it can be very well justified that the vandalism that took place there was ignited by the demands of the working class – a demand to reinstate a suspended worker – which was not to be accepted by the management. Although the workers were not marginalized in terms of their numbers – the media had quoted around 2000 workers – but their sense of feeling marginalized was evoked by their social class order (working class). When the long negotiations in the plant failed to get any peaceful resolutions, the workers erupted in the most antagonistic manner.

Most mob attacks or acts of vandalisms are caused by
mindless, brain-dead individuals who have no concern
for life of property
As a common man, one can only wish to stay away from such mob-attacks, but one never knows when he gets dragged into one. The incident that took place in Maruti’s plant at Manesar is no doubt one of the most horrendous incidents to have happened in my lifetime. My heartfelt sympathies go out to the family of the bereaved as well as to all the workers, for whom the future employment in the plant seems bleak. One miscalculated, misjudged and mistimed step taken by an immature group of brain-dead people has lead to undesirable consequences – most often turning sour, rather than getting any sweet results out of such unwanted actions.