Anatomy of Hate


(Shankar Melkote)

My friends and acquaintances are drawn from a wide spectrum of ideological persuasion, from conservative right of centre and middling liberal to left of centre. I often try to understand why people use extreme methods to achieve their political ends, but I have no friends in the extreme right or left.

I am not usually given to draw my friends into argument on ideological issues. I seek to embody my own left-of-centre political persuasion to the extent possible in day to day living –relationships with people and within chosen fields of activity, whether theatre or music or writing or just being. As a result of my consciously chosen non-aggressive and non-intrusive ways with people, there is hardly anybody whom I can call an antagonist.

The events at JNU have been disturbing. To understand what really happened I have sourced and read articles and reports written by people of differing viewpoints, those who judged the students as anti-national and those whose sympathies lie with the students. I have looked at all available video footage of the speeches made on campus and the events that took place during arrests and outside the court premises. Indeed, going by the vocabulary employed and the targets of criticism raised in the speeches, it is patent that the subjects they were discussing had to do with government policies. (It is relevant that a Zee News correspondent has resigned in protest against what he describes as the biased reportage of the event.)

Some of my more conservative friends believe things have gone too far – that the university has taken things to the extreme. I do not think they have had the inclination to study the situation dispassionately and to see what is what or at least entertain scepticism about the claims being made by some part of the media. And this is where the erosion of the values that were cherished by the older reporters becomes so apparent.

Current day reporting seems to have given the go-by to two critical components of reporting: dateline and source. A dateline is deemed evidence that a reporter has visited the spot where an event has taken place. Two, a reporter also cites sources whose information is credible – somebody who is involved directly in an event, or is a witness or has information from a tertiary source who is either involved or is a witness. Protecting sources was also important because often they could be targeted by people whose interests were often at stake. Yet another critical aspect of reporting came from the use of that very important caveat term – alleged.

Reports that have none of these markers can bias readers or viewers against innocent people. I think time is ripe for a campaign to have the dateline, source-verified reporting and the careful inclusion of caveats in reporting.


Hate is the opposite of love or an extreme form of dislike. Hate begins with labelling, with separating people along the categories of us and not us.

The tendency to label somebody who believes differently than us as an outsider when that is politicised can lead to dangerous situations from the irrational belief that those who do not think like us are obviously not part of our in-group and that it is okay to subject them to ridicule or worse.

It is so much easier – because of the way sensibilities are polarising among the categories of us and them to force a wedge between two sides for political advantage. Biased media can widen a wedge to a chasm between groups of people. The result is chastisement, physical assault and prosecution, all part of the armament deployed in the drama that has unfolded in the capital city.

People who already believe in an ideology will look for evidence in events that strengthens their point of view. (This has been repeatedly proven by psychological studies.) So what results is that people will not verify but are more likely to believe the media because historically media has been gatekeeper – and conscience keeper – of society. (This view is of course open to contest.)

Even neurobiology supports the view that supporters on either side of a viewpoint share different brain patterns. One side perceives the members of the other side as somewhat less than human; somewhat of a beast, animal, or disease; somewhat a dehumanised object. The primary emotion a member of one side feels in referring to the other is disgust, and implicit in the feeling of disgust is that it is okay to brutalise an object that is disgusting and the perpetrator feels he is doing the right thing by cleansing the society of something; of surgically removing some canker; of eradicating a scourge to help restore society to the path of health.

Robert Sternberg, a Yale psychologist, was perplexed by the fact that the human beings have been getting smarter but not kinder. He asked the question: why does our ever growing intellect not prevent us from promoting intolerance, terror or war?

In inquiring this question, he found an answer that was made up of three components: rage triggered by fear, disgust, and cold hate working together to seek the annihilation of the hated object. He discovered in the milieu a story that facilitates hate for the hated object. Every hate situation has a hate story but all such stories are always factually wrong, he found. It would be simple to show up the falsity of the story simply by looking at different perspectives. All players to the hate context would then be able to reach saner conclusions, he says. But unfortunately it doesn’t even occur to most people to do so.

The time has come for us to heed sage advice and take a look at all perspectives so that stories of hate are deconstructed and dismantled; to do so before the so called hate-circuits in the brain goadsus on to desperate acts of irredeemable irrationality.