I had enrolled for an interesting course on Coursera recently. Buddhism and Modern Psychology, taught by Robert Wright of Princeton Univ. Though the spirituality of emptiness and detachment may be of interest to only a few people, the most practical takeaway from the course was regarding the importance of meditation in bringing a sense of calm through an experiential understanding of the oneness of everything. I also thought that if practiced on a wider scale, meditation would be a very useful tool for quietening down the growing noise and anxiety of intolerance in society, and therefore a good preventive tool for the ‘law and order’ police. So to encourage meditation gatherings in public places, especially in areas of repeated conflict, can it be one manner of preventive policing methodology?
The issues of freedom of speech and police actions regarding the same, which have come to the fore from the recent JNU incident, are interesting to look at, on this background. There have been instances in the past too when questions arose on how much freedom should be protected by the police when certain kinds of public utterances can anger a section of the people and possibly vitiate public peace. This question is really more regarding the extent of tolerance by the society in general, to free speech.
Police have a clear legal responsibility to take actions to prevent disruptions of public peace and they also simultaneously have a clear responsibility to protect individual freedoms granted by the constitution. In a tolerant society, these two responsibilities should not conflict-at least not too often. In India, however, these conflicts have been happening and the police response has tilted more towards protecting public peace vis a vis the protection of freedom of speech. This is understandable as the police see their role primarily as keepers of ‘order’, not as social change agent.
So to my way of looking at this problem, it appears that police needs to think outside the framework of only enforcing the laws, if any lasting and satisfactory solution is to be found. One way would be to think of ways to reduce the emotional excitability of the society. It will create a more peaceful and tolerant society. And meditation is one such way.