Role of language in dividing society: Is polarization and labeling a new norm? No but yes


By Aarti Mangal*

Recently, in separate two incidents my friend and her friend were heckled by a mob in metro station and inside metro. Ever since I have been thinking on where we have gone wrong. I will here briefly share the incidents that happened with them. My friend along with one of her friends were returning from an anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) event. They did not discard the placard they used for the event and were holding it in their hands while returning to their homes.

They were standing on a metro station, and no sooner a bunch of people gathered around them. They started asking them questions in a very aggressive manner. This group of people was all men while these friends of mine are women. Here, I am not delving into the gender aspect, but have mentioned about the gender of the people involved into this act to send across a point about a society which boasts of itself as a ‘no more patriarchal society’.

Even as they were discussing among themselves about a policy of the government after attending an event which was different from the viewpoint of these men, they began being heckled at a public place. This left them dumbfound.

Not only them but I too had the same feeling when I heard about it. How could this happen? What could have this resulted into if they had not been able to run away from that situation? How could this happen at a public place crowded with so many people?

I was still wondering at this that another incident occurred with a friend’s friend. She was traveling in metro and was talking on phone with one of her friends criticizing CAA. A person came to her and threatened her to deboard the metro at the next station.

As she defended her right to speak to whoever she wants, and about whatever she wants, this person who threatened her was joined by another 5-6 men. This woman friend was also heckled by a group of men just because she was criticizing a policy of the government. To her, it was a terrible experience, but to me it was a moment filled with eternity of hopelessness. Frantically, I began searching for answer as to why should this have happened.

Is it a new phenomenon? No, in a sense. Whoever has tried to go against the popular perception of the masses has always faced wrath of the people, but yes because all this has been triggered through the virtual world with a speed never known before.

For the past few years, the usage of social media by political parties for campaigning has resulted into a catastrophe, not known before. In a country where most of the people have access to smart phones and internet data, the usage of social media for gaining popularity and campaigning by political parties have made people get access to a lot of new information, both verified and unverified. Every political party is using this platform to access voters. However, the one who has more money and power wins the game.

Now, coming to why it has turned out to be very dangerous. These political parties have created a language in order to label their act even as labeling those who oppose their act. Immediately, two opposite groups get formed, which leaves no space for those who tread in the middle and want to know, listen, speak or understand things.

This type of labeling puts at rest to all potentialities of having a conversation. It has psychological consequences too. This has been explained by George Herbert Mead and Charles Horton Cooley who have argued that labeling pushes people towards the act they have been labeled for. They substantiate it with an example of a person who had been falsely accused of a fraud but while undergoing investigations he gets labeled as a criminal.

This person, might plead not guilty, but people who know him would doubt him and start to grow distance with him. On the other side, in jail he might mix up with people who do not have a feeling of disdain for his supposed crimes. In such circumstances, the person might find himself more open to offers from criminals, even as growing closer to them. Further, in order to gain association to a group of people, this person would try to show allegiance in a manner that he gains the group’s approval.

So, labeling can wonderfully divide people very sharply into two opposite groups. With the bombardment of all sort of unchecked information and creation of labeling on such basis, almost everybody becomes a part of one among the two gangs, which is very problematic.

One who belongs to the opposite group comes to be seen as an enemy, and this is where heckling takes place, which can also result into mob lynching, if it goes uncontrolled. Had my friends argued with the mob they could have been beaten up or something worse could have happened with them. In such times, we vehemently need not fall for any kind of labeling language, which in turn might immediately create an enemy image among people around us.

*Research Scholar, Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies, School of Social Sciences, JawaharLal Nehru University, New Delhi

2 thoughts on “Role of language in dividing society: Is polarization and labeling a new norm? No but yes

  1. This has become so normal now a days and labeling someone just based on his/her opinions has very dangerous consequences and it creates more divisive society which grows on hatred and aggression


  2. This is totally true and labeling people based on their certain opinions is so dangerous that it could lead to more divisive society which does not even want to understand and listen others. For them, everything is either black or white.
    I guess, aggression is the main cause which does not allow people to listen.


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