Volume 22 Issue 9, September 2018


In the beginning, Hindu fanatics, self-styled as gao rakshak (cow-protectors), with a wink and a nod from the RSS, went after the Muslims. Any meat found in the house of a Muslim, was arbitrarily, labeled as beef, and the owner, dragged out and lynched.

Most recently, Akbar Khan, 29, was reported to having been lynched in Alwar by a mob of cow vigilantes on suspicion that he was a cattle smuggler.

However, as long as the targets were only Muslims, everybody looked the other way. But, it was like a tiger having tasted human blood. The violence gradually took suspected child-lifters into its orbit.

Lynching has become so pervasive that in June this year incidents of people being lynched by angry mobs have been reported almost every week, from Alwar, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Jharkhand, Telangana, Chennai and Assam.

The menace assumed such alarming proportions that, ultimately, the country’s Supreme Court had to sit up and take notice. Headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, it termed incidents of mob lynching as 'horrendous acts of mobocracy' and ruled that ‘individual citizens cannot take law into their hands.’

The bench directed the Parliament to draft a new legislation to effectively deal with incidents of mob lynching, besides telling the centre and state governments to take preventive measures to control the spread of messages on social media platforms which can incite a mob to lynch.

It also directed the police to register an FIR under Section 153A of the IPC and other such provisions of law against those who indulge in the crime. Further, the Supreme Court proposed day-to-day trial in fast track courts in order to make the trial process faster, as well as meting out maximum punishment to the accused in mob lynching cases.

Moreover, the apex Court has told the states to take disciplinary action against police officers who have failed to prevent such incidents in spite of having prior knowledge or, on purpose failed to institute criminal proceedings against those involved.

The judgment indicates that the Court has acknowledged the seriousness of the problem. It has also come at the right moment as there has been a spurt in mob lynching in recent days, both on religious grounds and, of individuals who are mistaken to be child-lifters. In the end, the Supreme Court calls upon the Parliament to bring about new legislation to 'instil a sense of fear for law amongst the people who involve themselves in such kind of activities.'

Accordingly, Union Minister of State for Home Hansraj Ahir has declared that the Centre will soon launch a Bill proposing death penalty for the crime of lynching.

“Lynching is a barbaric crime and no civilised society can accept it,” the Minister told a delegation of the Nathjogi community. “The proposed Bill will be on the lines of a legislation seeking death penalty to those convicted of raping girls below the age of 12.”
But there are problems. First, how will the Lok Sabha legislate on the issue, is unpredictable. Second, the multiplicity of laws does not address the root problem, which is not the absence of legal provisions to punish the criminals. For example, when a gang of men thrash a Muslim and eventually kill him, the offence committed is murder. Anybody committing such an act is to be prosecuted under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code for murder. If that is not happening, it is due to a lack of political will, effective policing and fair investigations.

Moreover, as the Supreme Court has mentioned in its order, because these acts are not only heinous, per se, but also often communal in nature, they need to be read with Section 153 A. If there is a mob, provisions relating to the formation of an unlawful assembly, can be invoked. If that is done every time such incidents occur, it should be sufficient to control the situation.

But, as the taste of the pudding is in its eating, so the effectiveness of any law is in its implementation. Enacting a new law makes no sense, when the provisions of the existing law are not being implemented properly.

The problem is improper prosecution. Only effective policing and prosecution can help matters but that is lacking. There should be a political will to ensure that there is a free, fair and impartial investigation, because, in most cases, due to political collusion with the perpetrators the police investigate in a manner that would only help the accused. Hence, if all these impediments remain, even if there is a separate law, it will be as useless as the Indian Penal Code (IPC) has become for these cases.

Besides, hate crimes are not defined in detail. The only section which can be referred to here is Section 153 A. But that is not found to be adequate for the purpose. The Parliament may make necessary amendments in the Penal Code defining hatred or a pre-determined judgment towards a community on the basis of what they eat, or against individuals, as in the case of incidents from Bengaluru and Assam, where they were assumed to be child-lifters. Because, hate crimes can operate in different fields in different ways, the situation can be addressed by amending the IPC to bring these into the category of offences and give more power to the prosecution, instead of drafting a separate law for it.

But, analysts are of the view that simply enacting a new law will not suffice while other problems on the ground remain. For example, in a lynching case in Uttar Pradesh, the state police deliberately sought to subvert the cause of justice by claiming that the attack was caused by a dispute arising out of a road accident. In this case, it wasn’t the absence of an anti-lynching law. It was the rank dishonesty in investigation that perverted the course of justice.

The remedy, therefore, lies in impartial investigations, robust prosecutions and constant judicial monitoring of these terrible crimes, rather new legislation.

The writer is a senior political analyst and former editor of SouthAsia. He can be reached at ghulamjil@outlook.com


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