The tipping point, one too many

Low-ranking Nepal Police officials of the Riot Control Police Battalion, Nepalgunj and Mid-Western Regional Barrack, took seven high-ranking officials, including an SSP and an SP, under their control, accusing them of mistreatment and providing substandard food. This comes in the wake of a revolt by Armed Police Force personnel at Chandika Battalion, Parbat and Bageshwori Battlion, Banke three weeks ago.

These events do not augur well for a country tottering under a poor law and order situation. Most alarmingly, the first event might serve as ‘the tipping point’ heralding a trend of rebellion among police forces.

In his seminal bestseller The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell illustrates how even seemingly minor events can act as tipping points for much bigger trends or epidemics. For instance, in the South Pacific island of Ebeye in Micronesia where suicides were unheard of, a high public drama resulting from the suicide of an adolescent sparked a spate of suicides among boys as young as 11. One boy (11) who attempted suicide later reported that he didn’t wish to kill himself; he only wished to “try out” hanging.

What holds true for suicide does for any number of trends. Teen smokers, for example, feel themselves “permitted” to smoke when they see their role models lighting up. It seems a “cool”, sometimes the only thing, to do to set yourself apart.

The Banke and Parbat revolts could likewise serve as a pernicious model for lower-ranking security personnel of other installations. They might, rightly or wrongly, come to believe that an armed revolt is the only way to get the authorities concerned to fulfil their ‘legitimate’ demands.

A volatile political climate is the perfect setting for new tipping points. Tyre burning, which started out as a fad during the first Jana Andolan, is now a de rigueur for public protest. Traffic violations are ubiquitous as even the most ‘respected’ members of the society

fail to observe them. Armed outfits are springing up throughout the country trying to imitate the success of Maoist rebellion.

The encouraging part is that the tipping points might augur positive changes as well. Teenagers can be persuaded to stay away from cigarettes if the ones they deem ‘cool’ show them how ‘uncool’ smoking is. Pedestrians are likely to follow traffic rules if the prominent members of society show the way.

In case of the latest rebellions, it is important for the government to set the right example. It took all the wrong steps in tackling the first set of incidents. Unconditionally fulfilling the wishes of the AFP rank and file was seen more as appeasement rather than granting of legitimate rights. As if that was not enough, the APF lauded those carrying out the disobedience as showing great “moral courage”.

The right mixture of punishment and justice is the order of the day. The government has to make it clear in no uncertain terms that those who instigate similar actions in the future will not be appeased, but rather handed out tough punishment.

On the other hand, to correct injustices on time, a proper channel has to

be established to funnel the grievances of low-ranking police personnel into the ears of top officials.

The onus is now on the government and the high ranking officials of security bodies to tip the trend to the right side.