Saturday, August 20, 2005

Mob Rules in Mississippi and Mysore

Back when Bob Dylan still wrote brazenly political songs about contemporary issues, he wrote one about Emmett Till, the 14-year old kid who was killed for whistling at a white woman. The murder of Emmett Till is back in news after 50 years.

But that's not what I want to write about.

I read a story about a "mentally unsound" man who "hugged" a woman in Mysore and almost got lynched by an angry mob.

My first reaction was "Great, mob rules." Ever the peace-loving, reasonable man, I. Then I thought about the girl. If she were someone known to me, would I think twice before tying up that man and thrashing him senseless? I think not.

That's when two other stories floated up into my consciousness: Emmett Till's and the story about one woman's train ride to Chennai and then things got really muddy.

Is whistling acceptable, but not embracing? Is tying up against a pole acceptable, but not murdering? Are there limits and who decides them? If the mob in Mysore can be forgiven, could I not forgive the people of Money, Mississippi?

While we can (and must) forgive the 14-year old's "crime", could the woman have forgiven it so easily? (We are talking about 1955 here, remember.)

I know, I am equating a "catcall" to a woman being groped, but one must also examine the issue from the woman's point of view. What if, to a woman, a catcall is as humiliating as a grope? Then is being tied to a pole and beaten fair game? And murder?

Suddenly, my outrage and self-righteousness disappear.