Making sense of insensitivity

What does ‘being sensitive’ mean? The term in common parlance refers to a positive trait. The scale of sensitivity applies to both individuals and society. But when the term finds usage more in its opposite form, prefixed by the ominous ‘in’, does it mean ‘insensitivity’ has become the popular norm, for a person and the populace alike? Well, words arise from social and political wellsprings and insensitivity does seem the order of the day.

Nothing brings out the (in)sensitivity quotient of the people, politicos and press like rape. In the last two years particularly, we have reached a stage where anything said on the subject can go awry. No meaningful discussion is possible, but the poignant part is the absence of any purposeful action to prevent crimes against women. Have rapes risen or is it just that the reporting of rapes have risen? Whatever, but soulless statistics and street-smart sophistry cannot hide the fact that women in India survive and thrive in a highly predatory scenario. Suggesting that ‘boys will be boys’ only gives more licence and leeway to the lecherous. But then Mulayams will be Mulayams, self-appointed sentinels of an insensitive male-centric milieu!

The accident took place at 6.20 a.m. and Gopinath Munde, just a week into office as first-time Central Minister, was declared dead at 7.20 a.m. It was on breaking news soon after and the media tired within minutes with nothing much to add to the initial reports. But the rest of India, the BJP and Munde’s family hadn’t come to terms with the tragic event and were still in disbelieving mode. But long before noon, and within hours of Munde’s demise, the media was into frenzied discussions on whether Munde’s wife or daughter will be the candidate for the inevitable by-poll! Such immunity to personal and national tragedy was startling. However, it seemed perfectly logical to the robotic anchors as they seamlessly switched from the death of a human and a leader to the ‘vacancy’ in an LS seat, all at great haste. Sensitivity be damned when it is speculation that pays.

Individuals can be intelligent but mobs are invariably foolish. In non-election season, crowds gather to protest or for a public purpose. Whatever the reason, it is collective sensitivity that makes many join hands. But in a perversity that has become so common, insensitivity to the core cause is the result of virtually any mobilisation. The riots that raged at Munde’s funeral had little to do with the solemn homage his supporters intended. Akalis gathered at the Golden Temple to remember Operation Blue Star instead invited ignominy through their open clashes in their ‘sacred’ premises.

Several paradoxes pop up. There is this contradiction of rising awareness matched by falling sensitivity, particularly amidst the urban middle classes. The question of sensitivity arises only when some issue breaches the senses and reaches the mind for processs. But in the current hasty, hardened times, much of the happenings, whatever their import, are deflected by the skin and skull. Sensitivity stands a slim chance against such shields, like those flickering flames lit by the ‘sensitive’ candlelight vigilantes who wade into the next issue with nary a glance back. What should be an an innate trait is often a fashionable imposition: showing sensitivity is rated higher than being sensitive. Projection as politically or publicly right will do even if one is personally rude. UP politicos are exceptions: They can also be publicly rude and crude.

The social media is the biggest test of sensitivity. Those who have made a living out of satire and sarcasm stand stumped by the sting and scorching stuff that adorn this media. Insensitivity is the fuel for much of the verbal traffic here, the very life. On one side, the sheer flippancy and impermanence of the medium demands its contents be ignored. But the massive reach and capacity for instant damage makes it potent. More so its rising omnipresence amidst the gadget-glued gen. Small wonder social media swings like a pendulum between total insensitivity and hyper sensitivity. And provoke disproportionate reactions like arrests and even suicides and murder!

By the way I did not bother to balance the use of ‘sensitivity’ and ‘insensitivity’ above. So no conclusions please. I can be touchy!

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Jawahar T R