The Limits of Strength & The Need for Force

Abhishek Paul
3 min readApr 11, 2018

I had a very interesting meeting with a serving Commander in the Indian Navy recently. I was proud to be sitting next to him fully decked up in uniform. I could see the respect the uniform commanded in a civilian setting. When we stepped outside for a walk on a busy road, suddenly a scuffle broke out amongst 5–6 people a few feet from us. Guys were trading blows and bleeding (thankfully they didn’t have weapons nor did they involve any passers by). This must have gone on for 3–5 minutes, I couldn’t really tell, but what it revealed to me was that even a naval officer (in full gear) could not do anything. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t for a moment blame him for not stepping in — it was probably the smart thing to do (maybe had things become more serious / prolonged he might have felt the need to move in). But I realized that at times even a highly trained individual is no match for a mob, no matter what the movies tell you.

A couple of days ago, a TV report carried instances of political violence in the state of WB, where men were manhandling women and no one stepped in to intervene, not the onlookers or in one case not even the policemen called in. While the folks on the news shows think being bold is merely shouting at their guests, I was appalled at the ease with which these people were able to brutally assault others (not sparing women). While I believe violence can never be a long term solution, maybe sometimes it is a needed deterrent. But if individuals can’t stand against it, who can?

A part of the answer might lie in another incident that I was involved in a few years back. I was involved in a traffic altercation (full disclosure, I lost my temper too). But we were not moving and the other guy tried reaching in through the car window to grab me. As usual, the crowd around did nothing to intervene. Suddenly a large Tata Sumo stopped behind us and a few men jumped out and started whacking the guy on the bike. No questions were asked, just a quick assessment of the situation, a loud voice and hard slaps (nothing brutal) on the back to disperse the troublemakers. I later came to realize they were part of the security detail of a minister in the locality who just happened to be travelling that side. But the effect was immediate.

Having benefited from a group of highly trained individuals who chose to act, and seen other atrocities go unchecked, I am not so quick nowadays to dismiss the use of force as a last resort.