“People speak sometimes about the “bestial” cruelty of man, but that is terribly unjust and offensive to beasts, no animal could ever be so cruel as a man, so artfully, so artistically cruel.”
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A few days ago, two Indian girls were gang-raped and murdered after doing what half a billion women and girls are forced to do every day – go outdoors to try to find somewhere discreet to go to the toilet. Those two cousins were just 14 and 16 years old.
“The father, a 45-year-old agricultural laborer from a low-ranking caste, said in a telephone interview that the two girls were last seen alive on Tuesday evening in a mango orchard, in the company of a man named Pappu Yadav. (The man’s surname is the same as his caste.)
The father said a relative saw the girls with Mr. Yadav and two of Mr. Yadav’s brothers and that, for reasons he did not explain, the relative tried to intervene between Mr. Yadav and the girls. One of the Yadav brothers pulled out a pistol “and put it to the head of my cousin-brother,” the father said, using a common term in India for a close relative. “He got scared and ran away.”
When he heard what had happened, the father said, he went to the local police station and asked that Mr. Yadav’s house be searched. But the police officers, who are members of the Yadav caste, “took the side of the culprits,” the father said.”
The girls were members of the Dalit community, India’s lowest caste once known as the “Untouchables”.
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One old nobleman, along with a band of spongers, moved to his countryside estate and took to hunting with hounds. One day, a peasant boy (the nobleman had three thousand souls there) accidentally hit a hound from the landlord’s kennels in the leg with a stone. When he saw that his Nalet was limping, the landlord became incensed and asked, “Who injured the dog?”
The kennel attendants had to reveal the little boy’s identity. They produced the boy. He confessed.
In the morning, the landlord ordered preparations for the hunt in full complement. They went to the field and took their places near the forest, the hounds were let out, and the borzois were held on leads. There they brought the boy. The landlord ordered that the little boy be stripped of his clothes and set loose in the field to run. Then they let out the dogs from all the packs to chase him—literally to hunt him.
The borzois approached the little boy, sniffed at him, but did not touch him… His mother got there in time; she had run through the forest. She clasped her child in her arms. They dragged her back to the village and again set the dogs loose until the little boy was torn to pieces. The mother went insane and died within three days.
From ‘A life under Russian serfdom’
However don’t put all the blame on men. As history shows, women in power are as cruel as men. Take as an example Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova, commonly known as Saltichikha who made her infamous mark with the atrocious killings of her serfs. She enjoyed torturing and mutilating her victims. Saltichikha was the epitome of boyar abuse of serfs in pre-reformation Russia. She pleaded guilty to the murder of at least 138 serfs at her estate, and the torture of many more. The name Saltychikha became a synonym for bestial treatment of the peasants.
I wonder sometimes where such cruelty originates. Is there a template for cruelty laid down in the human brain? Is it something that is unique to our species? Why do human beings find pleasure in deliberately inflicting pain on other living things? And what can we do to stop it because…
“Not much we can do about that,” you might say.
I think we can. The stories presented in this post have one common theme: these cases are the product of certain beliefs (or memes) held in the society. The stories from Russia happened at the time, when surfs were not perceived as human beings – they were perceived as property and therefore their owners believed that they could do anything with them, including torturing and killing them. Russian writers and artists were the first to object that deeply ingrained belief. Book after book, painting after painting, they slowly changed that ‘meme’ and eventually serfdom, like slavery, has been abolished.
This clearly demonstrates that even the most deeply ingrained memes and beliefs can be changed. We just need to keep talking about such cases and spread positive beliefs to combat mind viruses and memes that cause cruelty and violence.
Don’t close your eyes to ‘Hell on Earth‘. As Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”