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People have lost faith in govt: experts

People are losing faith in the government. Even when they are arrested, the cases drag on for years and the culprits get bail and lead normal lives, reports Abha Khanna.

india Updated: Sep 12, 2007 02:56 IST
Abha Khanna

Orissa: Four “fuel thieves” were tortured for hours by locals and some truckers on August 31. The youths’ hands and legs were tied with plastic strings and they were made to crawl on the road with oil jars hanging from their necks.

Kashmir: Two Lashkar-e-Tayebba militants barged into the house of a tailor and tried to kidnap him in August 2. Villagers caught hold of the militants, beat them through the night and handed them over to the police the next day.

Assam: In May, residents of Bishrampur village in Tinsukia lynched Ulfa militant Baidhya Dadhumia minutes after he and another militant shot a schoolteacher.

Instances of “mob justice” are being reported with increasing regularity from various parts of the country. While civilised society cannot condone such action, there is a need to understand the reasons behind the growing tendency for extra-judicial punishment.

What is it that makes the common man take it upon himself to “punish” criminals on the spot, that too with such brutality? Is there a trend? And, most importantly, what’s the solution?
“It’s the failure of the state that is manifesting itself on the streets,” feel sociologists and psychologists. People have lost faith in the state’s ability to bring the guilty to book. More often than not, criminals and murderers manage to give law enforcers the slip. Even when they are arrested, the cases drag on for years and the culprits get bail and lead normal lives.

“This is an expression of people’s disillusionment with the justice delivery mechanism of the state. Definitely, local dynamics of power very often escape the institutionalised systems of punishment, and frustrations with the same reflect in incidences of violence,” says Rithambara Hebbar of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.

There are two sides to this story, says Delhi-based psychologist Dr Aneesh Baweja. “Besides law and order issues, social evils like unemployment, illiteracy and backwardness add to frustration levels. There is another worrying trend: a distinct lack of restraint. It’s a mix of all these factors that play out on the streets.”

The media also plays an important role. “Wide visual coverage of such instances gives people ideas. The media makes a strong impact on the public psyche and has to be responsible,” feels Dr Kursheed-ul Islam, a sociologist in Srinagar.
There has to be strong condemnation of the so-called “mob justice”, insists Dr Baweja. “The fact that instant justice does no good needs to be highlighted,” says retired professor and ideologue Hiren Gohain from Guwahati.

Since government failure is at the root of the problem, the solution too lies with it. All experts are unanimous in their view: “The government has to instil faith among the public. When the people feel they can depend on the state, there will be no need for anyone to take the law into their own hands.”