A protest against the recent cases of mob lynching in Kolkata | Swapan Mahapatra/PTI
A protest against the recent cases of mob lynching in Kolkata | Swapan Mahapatra/PTI
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No single political party can be blamed for rise in incidents of mob violence and disorder.

It needed the Supreme Court of India to nudge the executive to fill the potholes on the roads, stop mob lynching, control the traffic jam, or allow protesters at the iconic Jantar Mantar and the Boat Club at India Gate. In the past few months, the courts have given many such important judgments, leaving the executive red-faced.

On the promptings of the Supreme Court, Prime Minister Narendra Modi government moved the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017 in Parliament. The Bill, which makes declaration of talaq a cognisable and non-bailable offence, is pending in Rajya Sabha.

Last week, the court asked Parliament to bring in a separate law against lynching. Authorities look the other way in the absence of political will to crack down on growing vigilantism in the name of cow protection, kidnapping and unsubstantiated rumours.

What’s worse, one union minister rushes to garland the accused in a case of mob vigilantism and another says that the outcry over lynching incidents is meant to arrest the popularity of Modi.

The second-most senior judge of the Supreme Court Justice Ranjan Gogoi recently observed: “Noisy judges and independent journalists are democracy’s first line of defence and a revolution, not mere reform, is needed to keep the institution of the judiciary responsive to the changes in society.”

Many argue that judiciary is stepping into the domain of legislature and executive, ignoring the separation of powers. It is, however, lack of governance that has led to the court taking up these issues. The Centre often shrugs off its shoulders, saying that law and order is a state subject.

It is now up to the citizens to act responsibly and find innovative ways to address the worrying rise in the incidents of mob violence. Today, people are more connected and the same technological advances that are used to spread dangerous rumours can be tapped to counter them. At least 70 lynching incidents have been reported in the last three years over allegations of cow smuggling, child kidnapping or eating or keeping beef in the house.

Mohammad Akhlaq was dragged from his home in Dadri village in Uttar Pradesh in September 2015 and murdered by a mob on suspicion of consuming beef.

Villagers allegedly beat a man to death in Alwar, Rajasthan, last week over suspicions of cow smuggling, and the state government has woken up late to institute a judicial inquiry into the incident.

The targets in most incidents are people from vulnerable and marginalised sections, majority being Muslims or Dalits. Delay in police action in many cases adds to the problem.

It is not the BJP alone that can be blamed. If you look at the list of incidents of mob violence and disorder, although BJP-ruled states are on top, states governed by other regional parties, the Congress and the Left are no exception. They are all looking at the vote-banks.

Following a nudge from the Supreme Court, the Centre has now formed a Group of Ministers (GOM) under home minister Rajnath Singh and also constituted a high-level official committee under home secretary to look into the issue of mob lynching.

The court has suggested fast-tracked trials, compensation to victims, and deterrent punishment for the guilty and lax law-keepers. It also suggested a separate law on lynching “to instil a sense of fear of law amongst the people who involve themselves in such kind of activities.”

But is this necessary? The British criminal code is quite comprehensive if the authorities want to use it. Rajnath Singh has indicated that the government is ready for an anti-lynching law. The government should also look at the draft of Manav Suraksha Kanoon (MASUKA), formulated by civil society activists, to deal with mob violence and lynching.

Vigilantism is not new. Bal Gangadhar Tilak used vigilante groups to protest against the British and unite people during the freedom struggle. But today’s vigilantism has religious overtones and is dangerous for a society.

However, anti-lynching laws alone will not change the situation as long as political parties in power continue to keep their eyes closed for the sake of vote-banks. There are two options left for people: one, vote and get rid of unresponsive governments, second, fight the menace through civil society awareness.

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