In response to the culture of shaming

Ronica Vungmuankim *

Shaming is a popular practice of social control for crimes, anti-social behaviour or behaviours deviating from the acceptable societal standards and is widely used among the communities in Churachandpur, Manipur as a form of social control. Newspaper or social media carries pictures of the accused along with personal details such as birth name, father’s name and address without the consent of the individual whatsoever.

The incident in early April 2018 of 5 (five) youth caught consuming WY tablets on the banks of Lanva River is another instance of the execution of shaming as a form of social control. Sale and consumption of drugs is an offence by moral standards of the community and a crime as defined under the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances (NDPS) Act, 1985.

In the above mentioned case, the Village vigilante group caught the group of youth in the act of consuming drugs and clicked their picture whereby the picture along with personal details such as names, address and father’s name of the people caught are spread all across social media platforms. What is problematic is how the entire move aims at stigmatizing the individual so it serves as a lesson to all potential ‘offenders’.

This is one among the many incidents where Public shaming has been successfully carried out in Churachandpur. Incidents of theft, burglary or petty offences have been dealt in a similar manner where pictures and personal details of the accused are being put up in local media platforms.

Churachandpur has had a long history of its struggle with drug abuse and addiction. Narcotic drugs such as heroin, cocaine, etc made its entry into Churachandpur in the 80’s. However, in the past few years, the use of prescription drugs and synthetic drugs such as Relipain (commonly known as RP) Spasmo Proxyvon (commonly known as SP), WY tablets, etc are on the rise, replacing the use of narcotic drugs.

This is because synthetic drugs are relatively cheaper as they are easily produced in clandestine labs in basements, unlike narcotic drugs which require acres of land for cultivation.

The influx of drugs in Manipur has to do with
i. The support of militants who extort huge sums of money as taxes from the drug trade.
ii. Close proximity to the Golden Triangle. Myanmar, one of the three countries part of the Golden triangle shares an international border of more than 390 kms with Manipur through which illicit trade and dru to seek an escape from the traumatic and highly stressful lives.

Drugs provided a temporary escape from their regular lives. Shaming does not result in Deterrence Shame is a form of punishment and an aversive emotion which people would avoid. However, deterrence is based on more than avoiding an unpleasant emotion.

There are opinions as to why Shaming works as a form of social control and hence can deter people from committing crime(s). It is important to ask “at what price?” is shaming effective. Shame can become internalized and the shamed person begins to view themselves in ways consistent with the disapproval.

The individual begins to judge himself and experience self criticism and feelings of inadequacy. This is a precondition for developing unhealthy conditions such as depression and social anxiety. Another counterproductive impact of shaming is it runs the risk of pushing people further into the labels and judgements made about them. Shaming the person rather than the act stigmatizes the individual thereby perpetrating the individual into further anti-social/criminal activities in search for acceptance.

This is especially dangerous for first time offenders who are labelled as deviant/criminal and hence forced to identify themselves with the labels. The labelling theory is in support of the argument that shaming stigmatizes the individual further by pushing them into the criminal self concept.

Victims not Offenders. Shaming of drug addicts is a baseless and moralistic approach to social control of people’s life and their individual choices. There need to be a shift in our approach on how we control the menace of drug abuse. Shaming as a method can work when it does not stigmatize the individual, meaning our focus should be on the act and not the person committing the act. Putting up photos of people overdosing or taking drugs does just that.

It shames and humiliates thereby criminalizing the individual Often, when it comes to drugs and other substances, we as a society often take the moralistic approach to handling the issue. This approach blames the individual’s dependency on drugs as immoral or unethical. It criminalises the drug habit. The essence of the NDPS Act, 1985 is a reflection of the moralistic approach which condemns and criminalises both the possession and consumption of drugs.

Viewing drug addiction as criminal behaviour rather than an illness is failing the people it’s meant to help. We often fail to see persons abusing drugs and those dependent on it as people who need help and support and often fail to understand the causes of the dependency. Shaming them is blaming them for their dependency and putting the entire responsibility on the individual to help themselves.

The Therapeutic approach argues that dependency on drugs arises due to factors of organic or functional disorder, traumatic early experiences or maladjusted motivational structure. The socio-cultural approach argues that the society is equally responsible for non-conforming behaviour of an individual.

This approach is a shift from the moralistic view of drug dependency which argues it as immoral or unethical and blames the individual. When we shame drug users by putting up pictures and revealing personal information in public, the focus is on shaming the individual and less about the offence.

It is at this point we forget to remember we are social beings and that our environment plays a crucial role in our development and the options we are offered. An attempt at understanding drug abuse in Churachandpur would be incomplete without understanding conflict and the impact on the lives of the people. This has called upon us as a society to reflect on our past so we can understand where we are today.

This not only brings us to the point where we should evaluate the basis on which we make rules- what should be defined as acceptable and what is deviant. It also brings us to the point where we need to re-evaluate our approach towards the criminal justice system. If our goal is Restorative Justice oriented where each ‘offender’ can be reintegrated into the society, we need to start looking at them as victims of drug abuse and also as victims of structural violence.

Shaming victims of drug abuse and revealing personal details in public without consent is an inhumane treatment and breach of privacy. It is stripping away the dignity of the individual and a gross violation of human rights.

* Ronica Vungmuankim wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on 22 June , 2018 .

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