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Social Tension & its Management

By Anupam Sharma

In any developing country of continental dimensions like India, where scores of languages are spoken and where every religion and ethnic diversity abounds, it is natural to come across different kinds of tensions- social, economic, political, religious, or ethnic. The Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines "tension" as he "act of stretching or the state of being stretched." It also means "mental strain, stress, or excitement." To this list, the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary of Current English adds another menang:"a situation in which people feel aggressive or unfriendly towards each other, and which may develop into conflict or violence." Tension is also understood as the opposite of the state of "relaxation," on the hand, and of "amity, congeniality," on the other. Further, tension is a variable because it increases or decreases, thereby having different values because it increases or decreases, thereby having different values on a continuum at different points of time. Sometimes it may be less, sometimes it may be more, and much depends upon the causes the produce it and for how long.

  • Tension can erupt due to economic deprivation or thereat of economic deprivation, due to denial of rights to one class, or favour to another. it could be over the "reservation" issues. Economic deprivation is factor potent enough to cause violence by the affected group or class.

  • Occupational competition between different groups of people, involving territorial encroachment on one side and territorial denudation on the other is another breeding ground for tension and conflict.

  • Feeling of identity aggression by one community against others is an area where tension is aggravated through inflation of ego; and further through caste, sect or religion, dialect, and language. It inflates through location, region, and state. And when two or three components combine leading to a larger identity group, the feeling is extremely aggressive and inordinately volatile resulting in a feeling of harassment, insecurity, and unrest among other smaller groups.

  • Terrorism is another factor causing large-scale tension between communities as was witnessed between Hindus and Sikhs after the assassination of Smt. Indira Gandhi. It need not necessarily be the people causing hate, but more often than not, it is the misinformation, inaction by the sate, undue publicity, misinterpretations, misquates etc which result in tensions among the communities

  • The other cause of social tension in India today relates to the tension of castes politics. The rise of the lower castes into political prominence in north Indian politics. In a sense, the political rise of the lower castes has, no doubt, expanded the democratization process in India but it has increased social tension also. This caste tension is inevitable, and there is no way to get rid of it.

  • Sometimes tension emerges due to inclusion of certain chapters or its exclusion from the syllabus of school curriculum and things like the compulsory singing of the National Anthem in schools. There erupted serious social tension in the country, mainly in kerala.

  • India has sixteen recognized languages is listed in the English Schedule of the Constitution. But the number of spoken and /or written languages and dialects could run into hundreds. languages disputes have been witnessed in many parts of the country in the past. This issue has become a little less raucous and inflaming in recent years but the linguistic problems remain as sensitive issues and are the ones that can cause trouble in India at any time

  • The attitude of minority community towards majority community and majority community's attitude towards minority communities create tension among the communities. Social tension between Hindus and Muslims emerge to over eating of beef over filming of movies, spread of rumours, and objectionable speech by both the communities, places of worship, feeling of inferiority and feeling of identity. While the Hindu-Muslim social tension can be a long running one, the experience about similar religion-based communal tension arising the Punjab in the 1980s which tried to stress the identity of the Sikhs from that of the Hindus has given us lesson about what could be done to tackle such tensions.

  • Politicization of state machinery, where everything is controlled by politics, suiting the political interest of particular political set-up invariable results in lower values and ethics, ending up with hate against the haves by the have –knots.

  • Many a time the social tension arises because of causes like unemployment and the rich-poor divide. The Sikhs, on the other hand were one of the well-to-do communities in the country. Punjab was perhaps one of the most prosperous states but still the militancy arose based on religious identity. The Punjab military generated finally into a situation where it became virtually an incentives for the unemployed criminal youth to take to the life of crime as a means of getting the best of life.

  • Social tension arises because of political issues. For example, agitation for political rights of locals versus non-locals, hills versus plains led to tension. Social tension arises out of political decisions during he reorganization of the states on linguistic basis. Even today, political tensions arise because of economic factors like the river water disputes between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu and Centre Government's financial assistance to the state and union territories

Here we can say the social tensions are ubiquitous. They exist in all societies, including the small and primitive, developed and developing, although societies differ in terms of the causes and the degree of manifestation of social tension. The facts indicates that developing societies are more social tension-oriented than developed societies.

Ralph Dahrendorf said that the absence of conflict in a society is an abnormality. It may be illustrated with the aid of an example. In a team research with the Ganddis of Kangra, the initial impression the and tensions. The people denied vehemently the existence of conflicts between them. Also , the record kept at their council office did not carry any entry that could have substantiated any episode of conflict between families or individuals in the past. But when the members of the field team stayed in the village for a longer time, they found that there existed a lot of tensions between families and groups; and the solution to them was sought from the realm of magic an sorcery. The tensions remained hidden. Although the Gaddis of the village gave the impression of a well-knitted and consensual community about themselves to the outsiders but in reality this image was far from being true. An intensive fieldwork proved that like any other community, Gaddis were faction-ridden and had all kinds of  social tensions.

India is a multi-lingual and multi-religious society. It has been considered as a museum of society by Vincent Smith, the historian. In such a society differences are bound to emerge, but the same can be settled through democratic ways. Social tension in any society is the first symptom of something serious that would follow, if adequate steps are not taken at the appropriate time to check it, and it is also the effect of something serious that has taken place in the past. So it is the duty of the state machinery to control the tensions and regulate them in positive direction. In developing societies, there are more chances of social tensions emerging.

Siddhartha Shankar Ray as chief minister of West Bengal Showed that massive use of power can be method of tackling social tension. Ruthless use of power can be considered as strategy at least to bring down the tension and under control in the short term. After all, the whenever social tension take place, they ultimately threaten the legitimacy of the state which exercise power to maintain law and order. This type of action is suitable for the quick redresser of the tension but is not for the sustainable solution of the causes of the tension and see those can be removed.

Social tensions can be addressed by facilitating interactions between various groups, by creating an order of leadership at various levels in each group, by appropriate recognition and respect to each member of the group in a larger milieu a in matters of communal, religious, and sectarian conflicts. Inclusion of the aggrieved or the so-called minority members vis a vis the majority community in various segments of the government organs like in the administration, police, judiciary, and the legislature would help. Non-segregated residential colonies and areas would help in integration to foster respect for each other's ways of living. Education being a prime factor, ensuring literacy for one and all would help contain strife and develop understanding.

It is also necessary to prevent dominant character and the hold of antisocial like smugglers or underworld dons from becoming champions of the weaker sections or groups. The administrative machinery should be strengthened so that the emergence of anti social elements as "saviours" is undermined. The so called "army" of various castes or groups should not be allowed to exist under any banner. It is also necessary for the government in power to send a clear message that it is a government of all and not of or for a chosen few. For this purpose, there should be no partisan attitude or occasion for bias or favoritism in any sphere of its activity. The attitude and dealing of the administration should be unbiased and impartial to all communities so that no group or community feels deprived or avoided.

There needs to be free flow of information, exchange of viewed, access to interaction with the administration and more communication so that rumors do not hold away and are curbed right at their very inception. Administrative decisions like announcements of elections should not be at a time when communal feelings are deep rooted and tempers are high. It is also necessary for the government in power to ensure across the board a system of grievance redressal machinery, be it for the peasantry, the labour workers 'class the other deprived sections of society, etc., so that their frustrations are contained, and, instead, get channelised for possible remedial measures.

Police is views as the most delivering arm of the governance in our country. As a visible and enforcing arm of the government, the police plays a vital role in maintaining tranquility in the social order. It is not only in its basic task of maintaining public order. Preventing and detecting crime, and bringing to book the perpetrators who violate societal norms, but also in being a watchdog over societal tensions that the police achieve its ultimate objective of maintaining a tranquil society. Police also plays a crucial role in economic and cultural field.

Today, the police also concentrate in addressing the root cause for social tensions that hampers its mission of preventing chaos and anarchy. That is how police gets involved in chasing even the electricity department personnel or the civic bodies in coming to the assistance of the communities' people who are aggrieved on that particular score.

Social tensions have become an integral phenomenon of our society. Tensions could erupt due to economic deprivation, occupational competition, and feeling of identity, terrorism, casteism, politicization of the state machinery, linguistic problem, communal violence and so many other reasons. Until social tensions are indicators of the possibilities of transformation towards a more promising future, then they are good, but if these tensions violate the basic framework of rights, are a threat to national integration, then they should be controlled and given a positive direction which can help in striving for social justice, maintaining social harmony and ultimately national integration.

Source: Gandhi Marg Volume -26, No-2 July September 2004

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