Fear–A Parable For Our Times

scream edward munch

Once upon a time there was a village called Jaampur. This  village was dominated by a few powerful persons, the headman and some moneylenders who took away a big part of the produce of the hard work of people. Whether it was farming or forests or quarries , these few big men were dominant everywhere. However more recently people fed up by this dominance and exploitation were beginning to get together to  fight against this with unity. They started meeting every evening  to discuss this. The big dominant men were worried about this.

Then one evening when several farmers and pastorals, men and women, returned home in the evening , they saw several strongly built arrogant men on a raised platform, beating on a few drums loudly without any  rhythm.

When people asked about this the headman replied—A new, monster like big beast has appeared in nearby forest with two feet horns, half foot teeth and frightening claws. So we have appointed new guards to protect you. The drums are being beaten by them to keep the monster away from village.

People became scared and quickly sought the safety of their homes, without assembling for their daily meeting.

The next day they saw the number of guards had increased and the drums were being beaten  even more loudly. They asked each other—Have you seen this monster. It became clear that none of them had actually seen this monster.

However in the evening when they came to the raised platform to get some news a guard was telling with terrifying details the monster whom he saw for a short while and then made good his escape.

Then the headman got up to say—To protect you all in these dangerous times the moneylenders have given ten thousand Rs. generously and I have used this money to appoint more guards and drum-beaters. Still you remain very, very careful as I have never seen such a dangerous beast before.

People became even more scared and quickly vanished into their small homes to venture out only in daylight.

For the first time they had a feeling of gratitude towards headman and moneylenders as protectors from big danger. For the first time they thanked them while remaining confined to their homes after work.

One day the headman declared loudly that people will not go out even for work as the monster is roaming around a lot . People worried a lot about their crops and animals but had to agree. During days of complete confinement people were hungry and when the headman and moneylenders sent them a little food they were extremely thankful.

Huddled up in the home people worried endlessly about this monster which had so suddenly changed their lives. Some of them became ill just from constant worrying. The worried people often asked each other with deep anxiety—have you ever seen the monster. The reply was that a new tiger, or a ferocious wolf and an unfamiliar leopard had been sighted from time to time lately, but no one among them had actually seen the monster. Sometimes this fear of the known led to the spread of more rumors about his horrors, and the guards were only too willing to add to this.

Then one day the headman declared they can go for work again. But when they came out the guards told so many scary stories about the monster that the fear of people increased even more.

Now poverty and exploitation had increased even more but such conditions had been created that people no longer spoke against exploitation and instead felt grateful for the steps being taken to protect them and their children from the monster.

The guards on the raised platform were becoming more and more arrogant. One day a guard got drunk and molested a very innocent village girl.

On this evening people did not immediately vanish into their homes after returning home in evening. After a long time they held a meeting to plan their action against this molestation.

However they had just started discussing when many guards appeared carrying thick batons with heavy iron ends. They beat up the gathered people with batons , all the time saying loudly—We are beating you only to protect you from monster as remaining out means monster can attack you.

After this incident it became habitual that whenever a murmur of protest emerged the guards came out to beat people with batons while shouting loudly—we are beating you only to protect your life from monster.

In the middle of this increasing fear came the harvest season. This time the headman ordered to keep aside an even larger share of the harvest for the moneylenders. When there were murmurs of protest he told the assembled villagers—the moneylenders paid for the guards to protect you from monster so some more share has to be given to them in every harvest.

Hence people got use to living with increased exploitation in a docile way. There was the threat of being beaten by guards and in addition there was also the all-pervasive fear of the monster which had lowered the resistance and fighting spirit of people. All joy had gone out of the lives of people, all dance and music had vanished. Only the terrible banging on drums by guards was heard in the village.

Earlier the talks of uniting against exploiters had kept alive hope of villagers but now this hope was gone. People became depressed and some of them took to the bottle. Liquor could be purchased  from guards in exchange of grain and milk . Hunger among people and children became acute. When mothers protested against liquor they were beaten up within their families. This further enhanced the all-pervading gloom.

However as long as there is human spirit some resistance to injustice will emerge from somewhere. There was increasing restlessness particularly among younger men and women. Finally one day a courageous youth spoke to several of his friends—How strange and sad that we have not even seen this so-called monster yet but still we have allowed it to curb all our hopes and aspirations.

He had given words to the pent-up feelings of several people. Soon many villagers were approaching the courageous youth to discuss important matters with him. After a long time there was a buzz.

The headman had several spies. This news reached him all too soon.

One night there were loud and painful shouts. People somehow gathered the courage to reach the spot. They saw to their shock and deep distress that the courageous youth was lying lifeless in a pool of blood surrounded by guards carrying thick batons with iron ends.

A guard was saying—this unlucky man had an encounter with the monster and before we could reach to his rescue, the monster had finished him.

A few villagers did notice that the body had marks of batons rather than claws or teeth, but they remained quiet.

They returned home deeply distressed and from now onwards were even more subdued. They knew that if there was even a small protest the guards will beat them mercilessly and shout—we are beating you only to protect you from the monster.

After this a new development took place that whenever anyone was injured or died the guards somehow blamed this on the monster. Dog bites and snake bites were also attributed to minor skirmishes with the monster. When an old man died, the guards said—Ah! The terrible smell of the monster can kill even from a distance.

So the fear among people kept increasing. When this fear of the monster reached a peak, the headman assembled the villagers. He told them —I want to convey a very good news. When moneylenders  heard about your great fear and distress, they spent a lot of money and efforts to consult the wisest medicine men to find some protection for you. Finally the great medicine men have found a herb.

The headman stopped for proper effect at this stage and all the guards burst into thunderous applause to re-emphasize the importance of this news. The headman looked around smugly, then continued speaking with a sense of announcing something very great.

— If anyone eats this herb then the monster does not come near that person. The moneylenders have not only procured the herb but to help you they will be selling it to you at a special concessional price. This has to be eaten twice every year so at the price of Rs. 300 per herb a five-member family has to pay Rs. 3000 per year. The biggest moneylender is most kind and he has said that if a very poor person does not have money to buy the herb then he will give a loan to the common fund of the village which can be used to give the herb free to him . As the entire village has to be saved from the monster and not just one person, anyone who wants to go on living in this village has to  eat this herb. This is compulsory. This herb has even been tested to show that this is very effective in keeping away the monster.

The headman then called some guards. The guards testified that earlier they were chased by the monster and escaped with great difficulty. But after they ate the herb the monster moved away after just smelling them from a long distance.

The guards related everything so vividly that the people were very impressed and thankful, even though very worried at the same time by the additional economic burden.

Then one day the moneylenders held a grand party. Various speakers expressed a lot of satisfaction that they could successfully implement their idea that big fear of the unknown, something not well understood,  is the key to ensuring the durable and widespread suppression of people while even retaining their gratitude.

Hence a new situation was created  in which the people were exploited much more and handed away a much higher part of their harvest, yet remained docile and submissive. There was no longer any talk of unity and resistance but instead there was gratitude towards the headman and moneylenders for saving their life and the life of their children from the monster.

However one day a child asked—But where is the great monster? Has anyone seen him?

His mother rushed up to him and asked him to hush up.

You can ask anything else but never again ask this question, she told the child. If you ask this question then all of us will be in deep trouble.

The child also understood and never raised this question again.

Bharat Dogra is known for over 8500 published articles on highly relevant issues and recent books titled Protecting Earth for Children and Man Over Machine ( Gandhian Ideas for Our Times). His recent collection of Hindi short stories is titled Sachai Ki Kasam ( Under Oath for Truth ) while  collection of Hindi poems is titled Kathin Daur Mein Ummeed ( Hope in Difficult Times). Details of his work can be seen at  bharatdogra.in



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