• Fri. Sep 22nd, 2023

‘Humans Are Not Genetically Programmed To Kill’: Psychologist Ashish Nandy On Inner Demons At Ideas Of India 2023

BySymbels Journal

Mar 1, 2023

Ideas Of India 2023: On the second day of ABP Network’s ‘Ideas Of India Summit 2023’, Ashis Nandy, a sociologist and clinical psychologist, spoke about violence, the psychology of killers and their victims, and what the inner demons within human beings are. Nandy told historian Vinay Lal, the host for the psychologist’s session, that violence itself takes an enormous toll on the killers. 

“We die not from diseases, not from natural causes but by sheer foolishness,” Nandy said. “If you ask me, what has been my own learning about violence, from my own work, I would say that I have become very much aware that violence itself takes an enormous toll on the killers.”

Nandy also spoke about Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2012 film ‘The Act of Killing’, which depicts the individuals who participated in the Indonesian mass killings of 1965-66. 

Nandy said that Oppenheimer depicted the killers as psychologically disturbed.

Nandy’s views on partition violence

The psychologist also spoke about his study on partition violence. Nandy said that over a period of 20-25 years, he has met only one killer who seemed to him a normal, functioning individual. The psychologist said the person had the attitude of fighting a war, and is the only killer who can be classified as a normal human being. The rest are all psychologically bent, living with their past, Nandy said. Many of them have not lived a happy life, he added. 

Nandy also said that Bajrang Patel, who killed a lot of people in the Gujarat riots, and is now in jail, has turned schizophrenic. 

“Psychopaths are also psychotic often, and that is the way they learn to live, for the rest of their lives. Killing has its own costs,” Nandy said. 

How violence affects its victims

Lal spoke about Nandy’s book, ‘The Intimate Enemy: Loss and Recovery of Self Under Colonialism’, and called it one of the most powerful books ever written on colonialism. Lal asked Nandy if the violence visited upon India through colonialism is still with us. 

Nandy replied that victims have their way of internalising what they are victims of. He added that it is our job to give a message to the victims that they are not only victims, but in some sense, have become a carbon-copy or a partial copy of their oppressors. 

Nandy on how violence affects the mental health of those who commit it

“Human beings are genetically not programmed to kill. In fact, it is very difficult to train a person to kill,” Nandy said.

In the American system, they conducted target practice, the psychologist said. European data has shown that a large proportion of soldiers, even during the world wars, tried to avoid killing, the moment other officers were absent, Nandy said. 

He added that now, American soldiers are made to shoot at cardboards cut out in the shape of humans. However, Nandy said, he does not feel this practice will help improve the mental health of soldiers beyond a certain point. “Ultimately, you have to pay the cost of killing.”

Nandy said it is true that there are psychopaths who begin to enjoy killing. He added that there are also individuals who are psychologically disturbed enough to do that. 

Even among the Nazi Germans, many people had psychological problems, Nandy said. They had to be hospitalised. Despite being ruthless killers, cases of psychological problems among Nazi soldiers were there, Nandy said. 

Nandy on where the cruellest forms of violence are seen

“One thing I found out in my work is that the cruellest forms of violence, for instance, partition violence in Punjab, come mainly when two parties are not strangers, but very close to each other. In Punjab, the Hindus and the Muslims were very closely intertwined,” Nandy said. 

“In Bengal, there was a hierarchical difference. Muslims were poorer and most of the landlords were Hindus,” he added. 

Nandy said that the German Jews were the most integrated Jews. They all spoke German. Yet, they became targets, the psychologist said.

Referring to the Rwandan genocide, Nandy said that the Hutus and Tutsis were close communities, and there were many instances of intermarriage. He added that the communities were so close, that anthropologists say they cannot be culturally differentiated. 

Nandy said that in Kosovo, Muslims had to face unprovoked violence. He added that one psychiatrist said that in the case of Kosovo, people were living happily and peacefully, unaware that they were divided. 

Some leaders of Serbia found out that they could convince their countrymen that they had been suffering due to Muslims, Nandy said. 

“You concentrate on the majority community, over a period of time, and convince them that they have been discriminated against, and gradually, the majority begins to think like a minority,” Nandy added. 

“To me, everybody is a potential killer, and everybody is a potential victim,” Nandy said. 

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