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The Societal Stockholm Syndrome
<b><span style='color:red'>The Societal Stockholm syndrome and Terrorism in the Indian context</b></span>

<i>" It is this gradual and participatory restoration of faith in the institutions of governance that is the most important task in the reconstruction of a society ravaged by terror."</i>
- KPS Gill in "Freedom from Fear"

<i>"India was the mother of our race and Sanskrit the mother of Europe's languages. She was the mother of our philosophy, mother through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics, mother through Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity, mother through village communities of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all." </i>
- Will Durant

<b>by Kaushal Vepa PhD</b>


In the last few decades we have become accustomed to seeing certain peculiar modes of behavior in India, unique only to the subcontinent. For example there is a tendency to be too quick to rationalize the behavior of terrorists and find all manner of excuses to justify their behavior. Furthermore there is great reluctance to call a terrorist a terrorist. In fact the word is almost taboo in the English language press in India, which prefers to use the more innocuous term 'militant' to describe the behavior of these demented individuals who rarely balk at committing heinous acts such as the killing of women and children.

Such behavior extends to remarks about India's main adversary in the world, namely Pakistan. The refrain is always that India should make concessions to Pakistan and not vice versa. There are all kinds of analysis done to explain away the behavior of terrorists. This behavior extends to incidents such as Godhara, where a Muslim mob of several hundred men set fire to several bogies of an Indian train and burnt alive at least 50 people most of whom were women and children. The aftermath of this was there were riots in major towns in Gujarat resulting in the death of about 1000 people (including over 150 policemen. It is commonly acknowledged that 20% of those killed in the aftermath of Godhara were Hindus, unlike Godhara itself where not a single Muslim was killed and the perpetrators of the crime were almost exclusively Muslim. The point is that none of these facts are ever brought out. In fact more than likely there is usually little or no mention of Godhara as the triggering incident and the resulting aftermath is usually always referred to as a Pogrom. This revisionist story is peddled mostly by the dominant English language press which rarely has a harsh word to say against any terrorist, particularly if the victims are Hindu. Any statements made in support of the then prevailing governing dispensation are dismissed as examples of jingoism, a word that has ubiquitous usage in India.

I have termed these behaviors, manifestations of a common malady called the Societal Stockholm Syndrome. I cannot claim originality in coining this phrase which is an extension of a much more commonly used term , namely the Stockholm syndrome and has been used to designate maladies exhibited by some individuals on a more global scale than the behavior exhibited by individuals in certain common place situations. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. What is this Stockholm syndrome and more to the point what is the variant we are terming the Societal Stockholm Syndrome and why should we as Indians care about this Stockholm syndrome.

<i><b>The Stockholm Syndrome</b></i>

The Stockholm syndrome is a term used to denote the behavior a small group of 3 women and one man who were kidnapped in a bank in Stockholm, Sweden on August 23, 1973 and held hostage by 2 kidnappers who happened to be ex-convicts<span style='color:blue'>[1]</span>. There was an explicit threat that the hostages would be put to death instantly should there be no payment of ransom. There was also kindness shown by the captors towards their prisoners. The astonishing behavior of the hostages started almost immediately after the kidnapping. For starters, the hostages were none too keen to be rescued from their hostages after an initial period of 2 or 3 days. Even after their release, the hostages strongly resisted attempts by the government to prosecute the kidnappers. Several months after their release the hostage continued to harbor warm feelings towards their kidnappers who had quite unambiguously threatened to take their lives<span style='color:blue'>[2]</span>.

After the initial reaction to such behavior, journalists and social scientists started questioning whether this behavior was far more universal than was suspected. The question was whether the emotional bonding between the captors and the captives was a freak incident or was it a manifestation of a much broader phenomenon that occurred in oppressive situations. Lo and behold, they discovered that the phenomenon occurred in disparate situations whose main common denominator was that there be an oppressive element inherent in the situation. The term Stockholm syndrome was used to describe this family of situations. It was realized that the situation occurred in a variety of circumstances such as concentration camp prisoners, cult members, civilians in Communist Chinese prisons, pimp procured prostitutes, incest victims, physically and or emotionally abused children, battered women prisoners, victims of hijacking, and of course hostages<span style='color:blue'>[3]</span>.

What then are the conditions that are conducive to the development of the Stockholm syndrome? These are listed below
  • Perceived threat to survival and the belief that one's captor is willing to act on that threat
  • The captive's perception of small kindnesses within the overall context of terror
  • Isolation from perspectives other than those of the captor
  • Perceived inability to escape

It is important to realize that the Stockholm syndrome is a survival mechanism.

Finally, the men and women who get it are not lunatics. They are fighting for their lives they deserve compassion, not ridicule.

Perhaps the most famous early example of Stockholm syndrome was the celebrated case of Patty Hearst, kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (a left-wing radical cadre) in 1974. Hearst, the 19-year-old daughter of the newspaper tycoon Randolph Hearst, reportedly identified so strongly with her captors that she appeared to have become one of their numbers, and she was famously photographed carrying a semi-automatic rifle as “Tania” in an SLA bank raid in San Francisco some months later. The much more recent case of the Indian Airlines hijacking from Katmandu to Kandahar is another instance of the Stockholm syndrome at work where several of the passengers had only good words to say about the hijackers even though they slit the throat of one of the passengers<span style='color:blue'>[4]</span>. Another very common example is that in the case of emotionally and physically abused children, it is usually the case that the child will favor the parent who is the habitual abuser rather than the parent who is not.

<i><b>The Societal Stockholm Syndrome at work in India</b></i>

Psychologist Dee Graham has postulated that a version of the Stockholm syndrome occurs on a societal level<span style='font-size:8pt;line-height:100%'>[5]</span>. By a Societal Stockholm Syndrome we mean the prevalence of self destructive behavior after exposure to an oppressive environment on the part of large sections of society rather than a handful of men and women as in the case of the Stockholm kidnapping. Arguably, one of the most appropriate examples of a societal Stockholm syndrome is the submissive behavior of the German people when confronted with the terrorist regime of Adolph Hitler. Well after Adolph Hitler had come and gone, in fact 17 years after the end of the world war, I found large numbers of Germans who had only good words to say about him. Of course most would ascribe this to anti Semitism on the part of the German people, but I have a strong suspicion that there was a societal Stockholm syndrome (SSS) at work. Another example of a SSS is the reaction of a section of the Israeli public to their five decades long conflict with the Arab nations surrounding them<span style='font-size:8pt;line-height:100%'>[6]</span>.

Psychologist Graham believes that all women suffer from it--to widely varying degrees, of course. But as we will elaborate the societal versions of the Stockholm syndrome are not restricted to women alone and fit the behavior of large sections of the Indian populace very nicely. What are some of these examples we are talking about. We have already alluded to a few, early in this essay.

The romanticization of bandits in India is a good case in point. For the most part bandits in India, like their cohorts elsewhere have few redeeming qualities and are extremely ruthless when it comes to taking of human life. Yet, the very villagers upon whom they prey act as their best defendants and will go to the extent of hiding them should the occasion so demand. This is similar to the reluctance of the villagers in the movie The Magnificent Seven, a reluctance to stand up to the bandits even when faced with debilitating, destructive and predatory actions by the bandits.

Another similar example is that of Kashmiri villagers who initially refused to adopt the "Village defense council" set of procedures in defense against marauding terrorists aided and abetted by the Government of Pakistan. We will let KPS Gill<span style='font-size:8pt;line-height:100%'>[7]</span> (the erstwhile super cop of India) himself explain the mechanisms at work here,

"It is nonsense to talk about the ‘will of the people’ under the shadow of the gun. There is, in fact, a "societal Stockholm Syndrome", a pattern of submission, resignation, acceptance and eventual justification that becomes a necessary survival strategy under extreme, lawless and pervasive threat. Terrorism – even by small but well armed, and especially externally supported groups – has the capacity to produce, in large masses of men, a widespread belief in the futility of resistance and a loss of faith in the state and its agencies and their ability to protect life, liberty and property. These patterns of thought gradually create a denial among the people of their own fear, and an increasing justification of the terrorist cause. However outrageous the extremist demands may be, the "logic" of these demands begins to find sympathetic echoes among the people, the media and the "secular" or "moderate" leadership as well. Gradually, this is also translated into an increasing willingness to provide, at least, non-terrorist support to the activities of the terrorists – feeding, harboring, sympathetic bandhs, dharnas and protests, the creation and operation of Front Organizations that take up the "cause" of the "human rights" of arrested terrorists, etc. To believe that these are the acts of a free people, willingly undertaken, is to utterly and completely misunderstand the very nature of terrorism. Indeed, the most tragic, the most pathetic, symbols of terrorism are not the mutilated corpses that are so often projected through the media, but the images of members of the Dukhtaran-e-Millat singing paeans to their own enslavement and the homage that the Hurriyat pays, from time to time, to the mehmaan mujahiddeen, the foreign mercenaries, and to Pakistan, whose ambitions and machinations kill thousands of innocent Kashmiris every year."

Yet another example of a SSS at work is the election of known criminals, murderers and gangsters to elective office. This is especially true in the state of Bihar in India but is present albeit to a lesser degree elsewhere. There is currently a case of a convicted felon under indictment for further crimes who was elected to the Lok Sabha (the Indian parliament). The case draws some amount of attention in India but there is a visible lack of outrage that something like this is allowed to happen. Even as we speak the Bihar government is squashing all cases against this murderer so that he can sit in the Lok Sabha despite the orders of the Supreme Court to the contrary.

But the most glaring example of the SSS in the Indian subcontinent is in the way the Indian public and the government handles the so called 'communal' problem. A word about terminology is in order here. As with many things Indian, words in the English language have a nuanced meaning in India that is in some cases quite distinct from their usage in the rest of the world. The word communal is a word with a pregnant meaning in India, generally referring to any action that is perceived to be against the best interest of the Muslim community. Communal is often used as an antonym for secular, which is the highest accolade of praise in India. To qualify for this accolade and to inoculate oneself against the constantly lurking charge of communalism one must be certified as a strong supporter of the Muslim community. But those who have fallen over backward in order to qualify, have only found that the bar or Lakshman rekha is constantly moving and like the bandits in The Magnificent Seven, their avarice for more knows no limits. The communal problem gets significantly more complicated in the subcontinent, due to the presence of the Islamic republic of Pakistan as the immediate neighbor of India, a republic only in name. Now that we have established the terms of the debate, let us get on to the substance.

To set the stage for what follows it must also be recalled that the Islamic conquest of India which took several centuries to instantiate was an extremely bloody one. In the words of Will Durant the historian the Islamic invasion of India was<span style='font-size:8pt;line-height:100%'>[8]</span> "probably the bloodiest story in history ... a discouraging tale, for its evident moral is that civilization is a precious good, whose delicate complex order and freedom can at any moment be overthrown by barbarians invading from without and multiplying from within."

There are many examples of the SSS at work here. At its most basic level there is denial - a denial that the atrocities related to the conquest ever happened. Even a discussion or debate on this topic is taboo in certain parts of India such as the state of West Bengal which is run by communists. One recent commentator Hari Chandra writes about the resulting impact of the debilitating impact of seven centuries of continuous warfare and conquest in his column on Resurrecting India's True History<span style='font-size:8pt;line-height:100%'>[9]</span>

"The debilitating and deleterious impact of these two outside influences(British and Islamic) on the Indian psyche runs very deep and the wounds are very raw despite the doctoring of history by the professional secularists, and despite afflictions of the Stockholm Syndrome and of Dhimmitude on the gatekeepers of history and the ruling political class of the yesteryears. So great is the fear of truth by these professional secularists that in their heyday they ensured that the 1982 directive from the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) for the rewriting of school texts clearly stipulated that the “characterization of the medieval period as a time of conflict between Hindus and Moslems is forbidden.” The state of denial of a past reality is astounding given the vast amounts of archeological, epigraphic, and literary evidence. However, this does not prevent the reality-distorting historians from adopting negationism as policy, and giving all sundry attributions and flavorful explanations highlighting the supposed positive contributions of the Islamic invaders/rulers and the British colonizers even if their practices were largely to sustain their tyrannical regimes rather than for the direct benefit of their subjects. The issues under this format range from defending the destruction of temples and religious conversions under the Islamic rule to the laying of the railway network and the practice of slave trade under the British. “So the first line of defense is to deny the history altogether.

The second level at which the SSS operates in India is to say that while there may have been atrocities such as carting away thousands of slaves over the Hindu Kush to the markets of Samarqand , Bokhara ,Isfahan and Damascus, but then they were no different than the actions of pre-Islamic rulers in India. And then with a flourish we are told that Asoka indulged in a lot of killing in a manner no different than the more recent marauders. The problem with this statement(s) is that first of all it is a lie of Goebellian proportions. The scale of the holocaust perpetrated in medieval times is so massive, some estimates put it at least at a minimum of 70 million people, leading to a definite drop in the population of India during those centuries, that it is simply mind boggling and there is no historical parallel or evidence that such a massive holocaust took place in pre Islamic times. The data behind these numbers is obtained from Muslim historians themselves who wrote gleefully about the scale of the slaughter. Secondly if Asoka indulged in killing on the battlefield, he quickly repented and refrained from war thereafter as a means of statecraft. In fact it was Asoka who adopted Buddhism and its associated tenets of non-violence and was in large part responsible for the spread of Buddhism to a major portion of Asia or at least the beginning of such a dispersion of the Buddhist tenets.

There is no record of any Muslim sultan repenting of the slaughter that he had wrought. And finally if we think the holocaust of medieval times was a thing of the past, we ought to be reminded that it occurred as recently as 1971 in Bangladesh where a minimum of 2 to 3 million, mostly Hindus were put to death by West Pakistani goons otherwise known as the Pakistani army. In Pakistan itself there were at least 10 million Hindus at the time of partition. Assuming 5 million walked away to India in the exodus and the aftermath of partition, what happened to the remaining 5 million? The reduction in percentage of Hindus in Bangladesh is similarly unexplainable unless one postulates that there is a massive effort at ethnic cleansing going on within that country. The shunning of these topics as a legitimate subject of inquiry into these and related matters is another instance of the Stockholm syndrome at work.

The third level at which the SSS operates is the denial of any kind of civilization in the Indic peninsula and to the extent that they admit of the presence of such a civilization there is a constant attempt to shorten its antiquity. A prime example of such a modus operandi is the concocted story of the Aryan Invasion or the AIT for short. The theory being that marauding Aryans came in chariots drawn by 4 horses, in a manner similar to Ben Hur, across what is now known as the Khyber pass and destroyed the indigenous civilizations of the Indus Valley as characterized by Harrapa and MohenjoDaro. The theory has several holes, not least among them being the invention of the mythical Aryans. The word Aryan is never used as a noun in the Vedas, only as an adjective Arya. Never mind also that there is not the slightest iota of proof or archaeological evidence to back up this cockamamie theory. The theory is solely based on the existence of a large family of Indo-European languages spread over a wide area of Europe and Asia. While nobody denies the cognate nature of the IE language family, it is of course unclear why one needs to postulate invasions or large scale migrations as the only mechanism by which language is dispersed over a wide area and over prolonged periods of time. Migrations have of course been the norm over long periods of time; due mostly to the recession and advance of the ice ages, but there is no evidence in the Indian historical record of any migration to the Indian subcontinent during the time period in question and neither is there any such evidence in the mythologies of other civilizations.

There is another point to be made. If in fact the Vedas were composed elsewhere than in the Indian subcontinent as is alleged by those who support the AIT, why are there no remnants of such a people who are capable of chanting the Vedas any where but in India. After all even after 1300 years there are a remnant of Parsees in Iran, albeit a dwindling and miniscule number who can chant their Avesta.

It is abundantly clear that the motivation for such a concoction as the AIT was to deny an autochthonous historical narrative to the Indic people<span style='font-size:8pt;line-height:100%'>[10],[11]</span> and to paint the Indian subcontinent as a place where conquerors constantly came and conquered, but nothing of any substance was developed in the native soil of India. Coming as it does mostly from Indian Hindu intellectuals, we can only surmise that there is a SSS at work here.

Finally (and this is by no means an exhaustive list) the handling of the so called communal situation in India is a prime example of the SSS at work. I know of no country where a minority is as pampered as is the Muslim community in India with the numerous special privileges that it constantly extorts from the rest of the population. Neither do I know of any country where vast sections of the population are so eager to be classified as minorities or as backward sections of the body politic in order to avail themselves of affirmative actions programs which are in profusion in India today. We have already given examples of the instances where there is a special attempt to avoid 'hurting the sentiments of the minority' such as the whitewashing of the Islamic conquest. There are numerous other examples such as the opposition to the adoption of a Uniform Civil Code of Justice, abrogation of special status for Kashmir and the reclaiming of the 3 most important sites (Kashi, Mathura and Ayodhya) in the Sanatana Dharma so that the temples which once stood there could be restored. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as the official custodian of Muslim holy places, has pronounced that it is un-Islamic to build masjids over existing temples, but it remains an article of faith among Indian Muslims that no site is turned over to Hindus for rebuilding of destroyed temples that once stood in the place of the masjid. This despite the fact that it is widely acknowledged that well over 10,000 temples were destroyed by the marauders over the period of 6 centuries and the only temples left standing in the north from that period are those in dense jungles like Khajuraho. This process of temple destruction continues even today in many parts of Pakistan and Bangladesh and in the Kashmir valley. Not only is there no talk of any remorse at the widely acknowledged atrocities committed over the past millennium, but a significant section of Hindus, afflicted by the SSS, demand that special privileges be given to the Muslim minority.

<i><b>If this is the disease what is the cure</b></i><span style='font-size:8pt;line-height:100%'>[12]</span>

What is the point in giving a name such as SSS to the malady that seems to afflict a large number of Indians? The purpose in identifying a disease and its symptoms is to find a cure. The goal of such a cure is to restore the self esteem of the Indic people, so that they will not blame themselves for every ill in the world and more importantly they do not become a doormat for every Western Indologist who compares Ganesha’s trunk to a phallic symbol. The first step is to educate the children correctly about India’s past and her vast undiscovered heritage, so that future generations are not afflicted by such symptoms. Education, especially K thru 12, is too important to be left to the governing agencies, who as we have mentioned have their own axe to grind. It is fitting that the large NRI community in the west should take up the challenge to rejuvenate the Indian educational system at least at the elementary level. An important quality Indian Hindus should imbibe from their cohorts such as Israelis and Scandinavians is to constantly toot their horn in an unobtrusive manner and to be reassured that there is nothing jingoistic about doing so and even if it were so construed, the question is so what.

Education is only the first step. Greater numbers of people from the educated portions of the populace need to take part in elections. Furthermore the refutation of dubious ‘facts’ such as the AIT needs to be taken up by those who have the knowledge and the communication skills to challenge these long held shibboleths. India is one of the few countries whose History has been reinvented and retold by colonizers who have a massive axe to grind and little incentive or motivation to wish the Indic civilization well.

But for all of this to happen there must be tacit acknowledgement that there has been a mechanism such as the SSS at work that has robbed the Indics of their capability to question long held dogmatic beliefs. Vedantic techniques offer us the means to once again become a discerning and sophisticated body politic. A little bit of shravanam, mananam and nididhyasanam can go a long way to mitigating the destructive effects of the SSS. We will dwell upon these issues in a sequel to this article.


© Kosla Vepa

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The Societal Stockholm Syndrome - by Guest - 08-19-2004, 09:22 AM
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