It happens in a flash, taking people by surprise. While making a memorable proposal to your girlfriend, you are suddenly surrounded by a dancing crowd. A harmless pillow fight takes off in the streets out of nowhere. On your first day at work, you’re surrounded by your new colleagues who break out into a dance to welcome you. Who, do you think, constitute this unanticipated assembly of people? They are part of a flash mob that has already become a trend in many countries abroad and a bit later in India as well.
Due to the growing usage of telecommunications, viral emails, and social media platforms, the concept had spread fast as a new medium of self expression. The purpose could range from artistic expression and entertainment to spreading awareness for a cause, or simply attracting public attention to the promotion of an event. Not surprisingly, the younger generation has been the most attracted to the idea. That anything new tempts the young is the obvious reason.
However, is everything about them as innocent as it appears to be?
Those who have been keeping track of this trend will insist that it most certainly isn’t true. In the United States, flash mobs have been known to become wild. Petty criminal activities started taking place, such as the one incident in Los Angeles where a mob of 40 odd people entered a store and stole purses and phones in July 2013. In India then, the concept was at a nascent stage. The government officials had to take note of the new phenomenon however, after a flash mob protest took place over the gang-rape and subsequent murder in December 2012, at India Gate, New Delhi. Stunned by the sudden gathering of people, the Delhi Police had to resort to teargas to disperse the crowds.
Although flash mobs aren’t commonplace or a routine occurrence in India, special flash mob groups exist. The group ‘Mobsters’ from Vishakhapatnam is one which performs especially for birthdays on request. Many colleges, institutes, NGOs as well as software companies have been known to have groups who conduct such activities. It has been part of the corporate culture of Infosys, flash mobs organized by the employees having been taken place in Chandigarh, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, and Pune.
Not all flash mobs succeed, of course.
Delhi has already had failed incidences due to lack of proper organization. The cops were forced to intervene and stop the events in the absence of prior permission. “In the absence of intimation to the police and express permission taken from the district collector, such events can be termed illegal since they obstruct daily life. In case of permission being granted, we also give a particular time limit,” emphasizes Superintendant of Police, Shankar Kengar of CID Aurangabad, Maharashtra.
Some of those who have been part of flash mobs have experienced their share of problems.
“During a flash dance, would you be enjoying the moment or worrying about someone robbing you of your wallet or cell phone? Since pick-pocketing is easily possible, we as participants have to take care of our possessions,” says Kunal Kshirsagar, a media professional who has become a lot more alert after losing his cell phone during a flash mob event. Another participant shared her experience during flash dance performances in a mall for the promotion of a college event. “Our college had arranged for permission from the authorities for the performance. We had to perform periodically during an event named Inspiro which was organized by our college. The management had given us complete cooperation. However, we did face a problem with some boys in the crowd who passed lewd comments and misbehaved with us,” complained Madhumita Jadhav, a fashion technology graduate from Pune.
Those who intend to fool around, enjoy the comfort of being part of a huge group. They can carry out their acts of mischief while being disguised as someone who is out to have some good clean fun or is spreading a message through a gathering. They get away with petty crimes like chain snatching, stealing of cell phones, and pick-pocketing since dissolving in the crowd before making a quick exit is easy. “We have had cases where criminals check the newspapers to know about social gatherings or concerts where there would be massive crowds so as to take advantage of the hustle for a pick-pocketing spree,” adds another police source. As the saying goes, give a man a mask, and he will show you his true face.
History of Flash Mobs
The first ever flash mob was organized by Harper’s Magazine editor Bill Wasik in 2003 in a Macy’s store, New York. A large group of people gathered in the rug department around an expensive rug and claimed they were shopping got a ‘love rug’. This was merely a prank to confuse the others. This was followed by around 200 people rushing into the lobby of Hyatt hotel and applauding for around 15 seconds and leaving immediately. Media coverage given to these incidents flung the concept of flash mobs all over the world, turning it into a fad.
Such nuisance can definitely be avoided.
Monika Bhatia, Director of SIPA Entertainment, Pune, explains: “Having a proper flash mob activity on the streets is much tougher compared to one in malls since the former needs more stringent security and permissions” For concerns of safety, the ladies are at the front or centre while the men in the group surround them. The women are also advised to abstain from much skin show. This, combined with their own separate security, keeps them secure from any threat. Although flash mobs can perform all kinds of activities, most of them in India prefer to dance as a medium of self-expression. “In one of our recent activities in a mall, a mob of 1500 had performed. Our message was that unity can work wonders. Everyone knew each other from the practice sessions, and hence, we were sure that no one amongst us would be misbehaving in any way. The security officials of the mall too gave us full support, and hence it turned out to be a success,” she tells. “We have also arranged flash mobs to spread awareness of the need to save water, on the occasion of World Environment Day,” says Bhatia.
Well-planned flash mobs with proper crowd management measures do not obstruct life and are safe too.
“I have performed in flash mobs for a car launch, and also on the eve of Women’s Day in Mumbai. So far, I have had safe and enjoyable experiences,” says Radhika Vyavahare, a chemical engineer in Mumbai. The police need to play a significant role whenever flash mobs are organised, since they are responsible for crowd control. “Based on the intention of the flash mob, permissions are granted, and we are notified through the District Collector’s office. We do not create any obstacles unless the mob starts creating nuisance. Public security is of ultimate importance,” says a police official. He adds: “As part of our responsibility of crowd control, we mainly try our best to convince the people to disperse in case they start disrupting public peace. To caution them orally is always our aim. If our warnings are not paid heed to, we have no other option than to resort to further action.”
There is nothing wrong with the concept of flash mobs. People can have fun or even make significant social statements. However, it is important to ensure that such an event doesn’t play havoc with law and order. Activities like vandalism and mayhem need to be looked into, since no well-behaved citizen wants trouble on the streets when he/she heads out for work every day. And, even if every member of a flash mob doesn’t need to earn his/her living, those who have families to support using ethical means certainly do.
Indeed flash mobs are an interesting concept, gradually having turned into a social platform to celebrate occasions and to take the average person by surprise. However, the participants and organisers need to make sure that miscreants are kept away. After all, who wants a good thing to go wrong? Nobody, except of course those who’re looking to wreak havoc.
Note: This is an article that I’d written and previously published in the Sahara Time Weekly national magazine. However, since the website no more exist, I’ve edited and presented the work for my readers.