Military & Aerospace

Violence in Society and Impact on the Pscyhe of Soldiery
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
Issue Vol. 26.3 July - Sept2011 | Date : 16 Aug , 2015

People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.

Man’s inhumanity to man has long been a subject for moralization. We are all touched directly or indirectly by violent acts. Violence is the exertion of physical force so as to injure or abuse. Societies regulate the use of violence through socio-cultural customs and mores and through codified legal systems. Societies also have natural mechanisms for cooperation, to keep conflict in check, to channel aggression, and to overcome conflict.

A major cause of violence in society is violence in the media. Several studies have shown a link between exposure to television violence and its propensity toward violent crime.

If one defines security as not just external military threats but as a challenge to the effective functioning of society, the existence of violence in its various manifestations is one of the singular threats facing Indian society today. At the individual level, security is the provision of a relatively safe environment in which citizens do not fear violence or intimidation. If individual security is inversely related to the level of violence in society—the greater the violence, the less the security enjoyed by citizens. It is an inevitable by-product of societal conduct and is an implicit challenge to state authority and sovereignty. The threat is insidious rather than direct: it is not a threat to the military strength of the state, but is a challenge to the prerogatives that are an integral part of statehood.

Historically and culturally India has been known as a land of non-violence. This was strengthened by Gandhi’s teaching on ‘Ahimsa’ or ‘Non Violence’. In the past two decades or so however, the phenomenon of violence seems to have take root in our society and is gradually but surely changing our long cherished values of life. More and more people are resorting to violence all too readily to achieve their ends, howsoever misplaced these may be. Countermeasures by the state do not appear to curb the spirit of violence already unleashed.

As a secular state comprising people of different castes, creeds and religions bound together by a singular cultural heritage, we have now come to mistrust each other. It is only natural that this traumatic change in our society has an adverse impact on the psyche of our soldiery.

It is imperative that we ascertain the extent to which the soldiery is affected and measures that need to be adopted to neutralize or minimize the effects of violence in society. This is important in an environment where the Army cannot be expected to remain an insular organisation totally cut off from the mainstream of public life.

…we have now come to mistrust each other. It is only natural that this traumatic change in our society has an adverse impact on the psyche of our soldiery.

Socio-Political Background

The values enshrined in our Constitution combine the concepts of democratic freedom with those of socialist humanism to form the basis of development, without exploitation and with justice. By adopting these values the Constitution sought to close the colonial chapter of our history. India is based on the modern ideas of nationalism, parliamentary democracy, secularism and socialism.

The task is undoubtedly difficult. Socialist development means proportionate opportunities for all and a certain amount of leveling of income disparities. A conflict situation, however, has risen in which the privileged classes who have the resources to pursue their democratic rights, which the underprivileged do not have, continue to be at an advantage. Socialist development has suffered in consequence. The democratic process has thrown up power brokers who take advantage of this process to acquire personal benefits of influence, power and wealth by appealing to the primordial instincts of a still insufficiently educated people who are subject to traditions hallowed by age, of caste consciousness, religious intolerance and aggressive linguistic and ethnic identity. Disruptive and chaotic trends have emerged as a result.

In the above socio-political background, the origin of the phenomenon of present day violence can be indirectly traced. The direct causes are many, some perceived and some real. Among them are widespread poverty, income disparities, unemployment, communalism and casteism, rampant corruption in Government departments, police atrocities and waywardness, judicial delays, spiraling population, and unequal economic development of all regions. They are threatening to submerge the developments made by the Nation since independence. While the aim of this paper is not to suggest remedies for the above problems yet, unless they are tackled squarely at the national level, the breeding ground for violence will not be neutralized. Military personnel must understand this socio-political background in order to confidently meet the challenges posed to the military establishment.

…unless they are tackled squarely at the national level, the breeding ground for violence will not be neutralized.

Patterns of Violence

Manifestations of violence in the country in the past decade or so have been in the form of communal violence which has affected nearly all the states. Naxalite violence which started in West Bengal due to economic causes is currently active in parts of Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala. Politically-motivated terrorist violence is currently active in Assam and the adjoining Northeastern states. Militancy in J&K continues. Violence due to casteism is a perpetual phenomenon and common occurrence in several states. Incidents of State violence where the police exceed their bounds are also a common phenomenon.

Unfortunately what is alarming is that the incidents of violence are on the increase, which indicates ineffectiveness of the law and order machinery, increasing sense of frustration of sections of the society who see no other option but to resort to violence as they lack faith in the administrative and judicial processes. The patterns of violence can be summarized and classified into socio-economic conflicts, religious and communal violence, politically-motivated power struggles and state violence where the law keepers themselves exceed their charter. All the above types of violence apart from their destructive nature have an adversely pervasive effect on society resulting in dulled sensibilities and changed perceptions. Self interest gains over societal or national interest affecting the very fabric of the ideal of Nationhood.

Violence in the Media

Violence usually refers to physical aggression, which is defined as any behaviour involving intent to harm another person. Killing is the extreme form of violence. There are many causes for violence and there are also many reasons for people to behave aggressively. A major cause of violence in society is violence in the media. Several studies have shown a link between exposure to television violence and its propensity toward violent crime. This is because television can teach skills that may be useful for committing acts of violence, and can direct the viewer’s attention to behaviour that they may not have considered.

…a soldier is trained and motivated to fight for the integrity of the Nation and is taught to believe that there is no higher ideal in life than being a martyr for the National cause.

Children learn aggression most pervasively from violence in entertainment such as television and movies. Anything we notice and process gets put into the information programmes in our minds and memories. When the input consists of violent or sexually shocking acts, two lessons are learned at once. One is the behavioral sequence, or the how. The second is that this kind of behaviour exists, or that it can actually happen.

Exposure to violence in the media leads to aggression in following ways:

  • Imitating what is seen on the television or in movies. Viewers are most likely to imitate it if it is rewarded or goes unpunished.
  • Exposure to violence in the media. It stimulates aggression by desensitizing people to the effects of violence. It also increases fearfulness about becoming a victim of violence, callousness toward violence among others, and self-directed behaviour that exposes one to further risk of violence.
  • Cognitive priming or cueing in the media causes violence in society. Cognitive priming is the activation of existing aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviour. Several studies have shown that violent videos primed aggressive thoughts in the viewers, leading to acts of violence.
  • Psychological arousal and desensitization. This happens because when violence is first seen it creates an unpleasant feeling, but as it is seen more and more that feeling decreases until the point where it almost no longer exists. Television violence destroys your violence immune system and conditions you to derive pleasure from violence.

Censoring of movies and other media outlets would not work because producers of movies claim that their efforts are works of art.

Censoring of movies and other media outlets would not work because producers of movies claim that their efforts are works of art. With all the problems that government has in attempting to decrease violence in the media it is up to the producers of television and other forms of media to control the violence in what they make, but the likelihood that, that will happen is very slim because they make money and violence gets ratings and sells.

Impact of Violence on the Psyche of a Soldier

A soldier belongs to the society and even though he may remain relatively sheltered in the cocoon of the military establishment while in service, he is to a large extent moulded by the prevailing social environment. It is, therefore, not surprising that the malaise of the society affects the soldiery in equal measure.

While in service, the identifiable primary spheres of influence which affect the soldier’s behavioural pattern are: his immediate military superiors, his family and close relations, his community, elders of his village/locality, religious teachers, friends and colleagues, the media and finally the prevalent socio-economic and political atmosphere. All of them, except for one, lie outside the jurisdiction of the armed forces.

Within the armed forces, a soldier is trained and motivated to fight for the integrity of the Nation and is taught to believe that there is no higher ideal in life than being a martyr for the National cause. Such references also find mention in the scriptures and religious books. The soldier gradually comes to believe that he is a valued member of the society on whose shoulder rests a greater responsibility than on other citizens. He is inspired by the fact that he is the ultimate weapon in the Government’s arsenal for internal and external security.

By profession, a soldier is as skillful a tradesman as any other, except that his skill lies in the field of weaponry, field craft, and military tactics besides a host of other trades similar to civil trades. The difference being that in the armed forces, these skills are acquired with the overall aim of destroying the enemy in the battlefield. The soldiers are, therefore, specialists in the application of violence, though this violence is applied in the interest of the society and the State and not in self-interest.

Officers with direct command responsibility have to keep a close watch on their commands, the social strain affecting their men, their family compulsions, their economic conditions”¦

These factors combine to bestow on the soldiery, prestige and honour which are the society’s rewards, apart from money income, for looking after its interests. Consequently, a break in the harmonious relationship between the soldier and the society spells mutual disadvantages, for it implies alienation of the soldiery from society resulting in insecurity of the latter.

The experiences of a soldier in the civvy street are disheartening, especially as compared to the sheltered life that he leads in the armed forces. Rampant corruption and poor work ethics make a visit to any Government office a traumatic experience. Bribery has to be resorted to in some form or the other to get even the most trivial work done such as obtaining or renewal of licences, school and college admissions etc. Issues such as a pending land case become an anathema, while any complaints lodged with the civil district administration or local police authorities generally go unheard. They neither have the time nor perhaps the inclination to help soldiers. In fact, by and large, soldiers are apprehensive of lodging complaints with the local police because their bullying attitude towards the public at large hardly inspires confidence.

In the above experiences lies the psychological foundation of alienation of the soldier from society. All it needs is a tragic personal experience to cement the alienation. Thus, even though the soldier may not lose faith in his own military leaders, this faith would generally be confined to his military activities, for sooner or later he perceives that even they are not in a position to influence anything outside the bounds of the military establishment. To this, if bad training and indifferent leadership in the armed forces are also added, the results would spell disaster both for the armed forces and the Nation in the long run.

Distorting religious sentiments to achieve communal ends and exploitation of this aspect in politics can ultimately tear the fabric of carefully nurtured organizations like the armed forces.

Effects on the Soldiery

Some of the discernible effects of violence on the psyche of soldier are:

  • Sense of insecurity: This is especially in relation to the security of family members and relations residing in far flung rural areas. In the case of communal violence it can also generate a sense of personal insecurity where a soldier may feel persecuted.
  • Demoralisation by Distorting Religious Sentiments: Distorting religious sentiments to achieve communal ends and exploitation of this aspect in politics can ultimately tear the fabric of carefully nurtured organizations like the armed forces. In its less extreme manifestation it can demoralize the affected category of persons who feel isolated and alienated from the mainstream.
  • Urge to Adopt the Violence Option: An alienated soldier has basically two options. If he retains confidence in his military leaders, he will readily confide in them and seek redress or assistance. If this chain too breaks down, he is likely to adopt the second option of resorting to violence Stray incidents of soldiers running amok in certain units stand testimony to this phenomenon. Similar acts of violence cannot be ruled out against civilians where the soldiers feel gravely wronged or where his family members incite and encourage the soldier to adopt the violent option.
  • Involvement with Communal and Undesirable Elements: In communal violence there is always a danger of the soldier being adversely influenced by his community to serve selfish communal interests. Instances have come to light, in formations and units, where soldiers have been threatened, coerced and blackmailed into assisting communal militant elements. A similar approach by criminal gangs cannot be ruled out. If a soldier does get subverted, he can influence some of his friends and colleagues leading to a serious disciplinary problem in a unit unless the leaders are alert.
1 2
Rate this Article
Star Rating Loader Please wait...
The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Col Harjeet Singh

Col Harjeet Singh

More by the same author

Post your Comment

2000characters left