Kathua and Unnao Rape Cases: Why Do We Hold Candlelight Vigils in the Light of a Tragedy?
Candlelight vigils are a common way of protesting a tragic event. (Photo credits: Flickr)

The nation has been jolted out of its reverie after a spate of horrific rape cases that have hit the headlines. First came Unnao, then Kathua and now Surat: three instances of unspeakable crimes against minors that have brought our blood to a collective boil. People are appalled by the brutality of the crimes —each worse than the other, the audacity of the perpetrators and the government’s reluctance to bring the guilty to justice. Most of us are feeling a helpless rage against the system that helps the felons carry out their depraved acts without the fear of consequences.

The only resort left is to find a peaceful way to vent our anger. That’s why, our social media timelines are flooded with invites for candle-light vigils and protest marches to show solidarity with the victim. Last time we felt this raw was in 2012, when the Nirbhaya Rape Case unfolded. Even back then, symbolic gestures such as changing the profile picture to a black dot to represent shame, organising candle-light marches, holding placards, boycotting, starting a hashtag revolution, etc. Despite our best intentions, it’s hard not to wonder whether such token expressions of grief and anger would ever amount to anything. To make sense out of this situation, we reached out to Dr. Era Dutta, Consultant Neuropsychiatrist, who lists some of the reasons why we chose pick such symbolic methods of social activism in the light of tragic events.

1. Many are Victims of Abuse Themselves

In some cases, people who themselves are victims of sexual abuse or violence undertake such protests for a cathartic purpose. “For them, partaking in such activities has a personal-gratification angle. Many abuse survivors, mainly men, don’t speak up about their own abuse. So they take up such symbolic protests to assuage a part of themselves that suffered as a result of abuse,” Dr. Dutta adds.

2. Mass Hysteria

Mass hysteria is a social phenomenon, where a community or a large group expresses the same behaviour when faced by a tragedy or danger. In the past, events such as the Salem Witch Trials, 9/11 and Kim Jong Il’s death have made people exhibit mass hysteria. Crimes of such tragic proportions often cause mass hysteria among the people. Everywhere you look, people are posting pictures and status messages on social media to voice their outrage. And in such situations, people tend follow a herd mentality and ape what the others are doing.

3. Contributing to the Society

Most of us are helpless citizens devoid of any clout to bring about any social change. Symbolic methods of protesting is a common man’s way of contributing towards a social cause in whatever meagre way he can because that’s the right thing to do. It gives citizens the satisfaction of being a part of a social cause that is bigger than themselves, says Dr. Dutta.

4. Primal Fear

Although everyone was appalled by the violence and the crimes, people with young children, around the age of the victims, are the ones worst affected. A primal fear takes over parents who fear for the safety of their own children. In such cases, being a part of social movements can give them a sense of security. It will give them the reassurance that they are making the world a little bit better for their own children.

Whatever the motivation, it’s wrong to assume that protest marches and candle light vigil may not translate to anything tangible. It promotes a sense of oneness and gives the community a sense of belongingness when tragedy strikes. The silent power of the people coming together can draw media attention and even force governments to reconsider their decisions.