Sudhir Venkatesh on Why no Bandhs in America

Since all ye wide-eyed schmucks worshipping at the altar of the blue-eyed Hrithik Roshan and the bountiful bosomed Namita have no clue who Sudhir Venkatesh is, let’s first introduce the fella.

Sudhir Venkatesh, a Columbia University professor, is an acclaimed sociologist in the U.S. who owes his reputation to his work on the street gangs of Chicago.

No Bandhs and Hartals in America
In today’s edition of the New York Times, Sudhir has an op-ed piece on an interesting subject that has often baffled us – Why is it that despite all the talk of rage and anger over Wall Street’s shenanigans there’s been only passivity all around and no real protests, no rioting or violence.

Folks, if this were India 10,000 buses would have been burnt by now, a dozen bundhs and hartals called, a mountain of stones hurled, universities, colleges and schools closed, Rasta Rokos organized, police would have fired on the mob, curfews imposed…you get the message about collective violent action, na.

Au contraire, in America there’s not a pipsqueak of real protest in the streets despite all the protestations of anger over the bizarre spectacle of executives at failed financial firms lavishing massive bonuses upon themselves.

Sudhir cites several reason for the absence of any riots in America including alienation from our neighbors, lack of trust, anger fatigue, the role of technology, high personal and household debt et al.

To be sure, Sudhir is not the first social scientist to address alienation from our neighbors. Other academics like Robert ‘Bowling Alone‘ Putnam have addressed the depletion of social capital in America over the last few decades and its harmful effects (aren’t we seeing that now).

Punitive Laws
Disappointingly, Sudhir does not touch upon the punitive laws that make it all but impossible to hold any kind of large civic protests these days in America. Time and again, the heavy-handed police action in New York City (before the Republican convention a few years back) and elsewhere have demonstrated that they will stoop to any extent (including use of violence) to crush any form of even incipient mass protest. After all with their high salaries and plush overtime allowances, the police has a big stake in the continuance of the status quo.

Here’s an excerpt from Sudhir’s op-ed piece in the New York Times:

And in today’s cities, even when we share intimate spaces, we tend to be quite distant from one another. Mass disturbances are not highly orchestrated ballets. They require spontaneous interaction, a call and response among unidentified cries of rage, the possibility for a unified mass to form from a gathering of loosely connected individuals.

But these days, technology separates us and makes more of our communication indirect, impersonal and emotionally flat. With headsets on and our hands busily texting, we are less aware of one another’s behavior in public space. Count the number of people with cellphones and personal entertainment devices when you walk down a street. Self-involved bloggers, readers of niche news, all of us listening to our personal playlists: we narrowly miss each other. Effective rebellions require that we sing in unison.

….To restore our social bonds….We’ll also have to accept that anger, real anger, has a role to play in producing collective catharsis and fostering healing.

2 Responses to "Sudhir Venkatesh on Why no Bandhs in America"

  1. SRINIVAS   March 30, 2009 at 12:49 am

    Tell him not to worry ….there are enough People in America ….who have come from diff countries …..thier numbers will only increase from now on … all that will happen in the future …..

    During the recent war between Hamas and ISrael …there was lot of drama …its just the beginning … Responds:

    You write above: there are enough People in America ….who have come from diff countries …..thier numbers will only increase from now on

    You are wrong again.

    Immigration to the U.S. is actually decreasing. Also, see this story in WSJ.

    Even the Mexicans and other Hispanics are returning to their countries or at least their arrival has slowed to a trickle.

    When the Mexican arrivals in the U.S. slows or if they return, then you know that immigration has come down significantly.

    The only folks who’ll continue to keep coming to the U.S. are the Gujaratis (on the family sponsorship visas).

    We suspect these Gujaratis get down at JFK airport and head straight to the nearest Dunkin Donut store. No wonder, we can’t understand what they speak at the Dunkin Donut stores. It certainly is not English. Now we’re forced to learn Gujarati to deal with these dolts. Khemcho? Majama.

  2. SRINIVAS   April 1, 2009 at 8:02 am

    people who leave are different from those who are potential troublemakers ……these studies maybe right ….but not relevant in this context …..

    Now you are a American citizen …formerly from India …so is your son/daughter …and so on … Responds:

    OK, you seem to be saying that ‘foreign’ population in the U.S. will increase as the current immigrants have children. We thought you were referring to more immigration.

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