- Shilpa Roy, Guwahati
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”
– United Nations Charter, 1945
As the cases of mob lynching are rising recently, they have become just a social media post which could be easily scrolled away with evoking only repulsion and horror but no justice. The word “lynching” originated in the United States in the mid-18th century. Many historians believe that the term was first used by a planter named Charles Lynch to describe extra-judicial authority assumed by private individuals. Although, the word lynching is of foreign origin, yet this does not mean that it is new to India. Since quite a few years there have been plenty of incidents of horrifying mob lynching. A factory worker turned vegetable vendor, Sanatan Deka was beaten harshly and allegedly killed by a group of people because his bicycle accidentally hit their car. What do you call this? This inhuman act is called mob lynching. It involves a group of violent people attacking and lynching a person or a group of persons, causing even their death.
If we have to define democracy by Abraham Lincoln, democracy is “Government of the people, by the people, for the people, and it shall not perish from the Earth. The basic and most essential feature of a democracy is to protect the life and liberty of the people, but, today, in the largest democracy of the world, the life and liberty of the people are being infringed upon. Mob lynching is an offence to the dignity of human being, the constitutional protection under Article 21 and a serious breach of Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Though there is no data by the NCRB of the number of cases of lynching in the country since 2015, yet the figures reported by various sections of the media are alarming. In the year 2018, the Supreme Court of India described lynching as a “horrendous act of mobocracy”. The Court asked the Parliament to pass law establishing lynching as a separate offence with punishment. The Court also directed the Centre and the State governments to frame laws specifically to deal with the crime of lynching and laid down certain guidelines to be incorporated to include fast-track trials, compensation to victims and disciplinary action against the violators. The three judge bench of the Apex court led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, also comprising Justice A.M Khanwilkar and D.Y Chandrachud held that such a law should be effective enough to instill a sense of fear in the perpetrators. In this backdrop Rajasthan, West Bengal and Manipur came up with Bills against lynching, incorporating some punitive actions. The Supreme Court of India issued certain guidelines to curb the menace of lynching. The Apex Court has directed state to appoint officer of SP rank and other nodal officer. The state has to provide compensation to the victims of lynching or to their next of kin within 30 days. FIR to be filed against the person who spreads fake videos and fake messages. The cases of lynching are directed to be tried by the fast track court and shall be concluded within 6 months. The WhatsApp forwarding message has been restricted to only five chats, in order to stop the fake rumors to get spread so easily. The Court also directed the police administration and district administration who fail to comply with the Supreme Court guidelines, will be regarded as deliberate negligence and strict action will be taken against them. The government has taken steps to put restrictions on this national crime by constituted a high level committee by Rajiv Gauba, Home Secretary and also a panel has been constituted by the central government headed by the Home Minister, to submit its report to the Prime Minister of India as per the Supreme Court guidelines.
Presently there is no codified law against this act of barbarism and sections of IPC, Cr.PC and Evidence Act are adjusted for this matter. The Supreme Court of India in Re Kangaroo Courts case held that “extra-judicial murders” and specifically mentined that mob lynching is antithetical to the rule of law. Under Section 149 of IPC, a mob exceeding five individuals shall be prosecuted for causing the death of an individual in furtherance of a common object to cause such intentional killing, read with Section 302 which deals with murder. The victims of such violence or their family members would be compensated under Section 357A of CrPC 1973. Undoubtedly the need of the hour is stringent laws against mob lynching but there are several other factors which can prevent this barbarous and cruel act. Recently, as I was watching news on lynching and the headline read as “Hindustan turning into Lynchistan”. It raised a sense of fear and concern in my mind, for you never know when you become the next victim and is lynching so common in our country. The mob molestation of a young girl in G.S road was also a part of mob lynching. When there is police and judiciary, how feasible it is for the crowd to take law in their own hands? Mob lynching is slowly becoming a new norm and is disrupting the fabric of our society. They are all acts of utter violence and must be punished as such. The acts of racial attacks against Nigerian students who were suspected as drug peddlers; the killing of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri by a mob on suspicion of cow slaughtering; the killing of 1985 batch IAS officer, originally from Andhra Pradesh, in Vaishali district of Bihar, while he was on the way to Patna; the killing of Abhijit and Nilotpal last year in Karbi Anglog district of Assam as a result of suspicion of child theft; the Palghar mob lynching, Jhankar Saikia murder case in Assam and the killing of Sanatan Deka over a trivial issue and the fresh wounds of killing Animesh Bhuyan on Monday in broad daylight in Jorhat, Assam are all examples of how human life is made a mockery by fellow humans.
Unless a zero tolerance attitude is adopted in dealing with mob-lynching, this will continue to show an upward trend. The social media sites should be monitored on a regular basis, so that any message or videos that trigger some ill emotions, or spread fake news shall not be circulated. The media has a major role to play in preventing mob lynching, rather than painting everything with a communal colour, they should focus on how to spread awareness to not take law in their own hands. Whenever violent incidents occur, it seems to be with the support of some powerful party leaders and most of the times it is the poor strata of the society who are the worst victims. We cannot wait for Kalki i.e. the Vishnu avatara to appear in a white horse and save us from the evils; we have to do our part of not instigating a mob for violent acts or be a silent spectator to such barbaric act. Life after COVID-19 has not been the same, so let this pandemic humble us and let us pledge to not choose to walk in the path of violence. We cannot bring back those souls who have been victims of such human barbarism but we can prevent someone to be the next Sanatan Deka. To quote Mahatma Gandhi: “You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty”.
The writer is a lawyer and a columnist and can be contacted at [email protected]