End mob violence, restore rule of law
On August 29, in Uttar Pradesh’s Sambhal district, a man accompanying his ailing seven-year-old nephew to the hospital was lynched by a mob on the suspicion that he was a child abductor. This comes after a mentally ill woman was lynched in Bihar’s Vaishali, for the same reason. In Assam’s Jorhat, Deben Dutta, a 73-year old doctor, was beaten by a mob comprising of tea workers, furious about his absence at the hospital when a worker died.
Vigilante justice is rapidly becoming a norm in various parts of the country. Mobs are undermining the law, taking to the street, comforted by their safety in numbers, to punish people for crimes without verifying the authenticity of any wrongdoing. Irrespective of the truth in the accusations made by the mob, these extrajudicial killings are in themselves as much crimes as child-lifting (which appears to be the latest cause for the mob). Law and order is a state subject, and the police is responsible for preventing mob violence. But as per the Status of Policing Report 2019 – which surveyed police personnel in 21 states – 35-40% of junior police personnel believe it is “natural” for mobs to “punish” culprits in cases of kidnapping, rape, cow slaughter and road accidents. This strongly points to the urgent need for a systemic overhaul. While the epidemic of lynching wasn’t born out of a flaw in the justice system, it is in effect, a rejection of it. The current laws of the Indian Penal Code [in section 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 323 (causing voluntary hurt), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon) and 149 (unlawful assembly)] are not enough, and there is a need for a law specific to lynching. Bengal, Rajasthan and Manipur have already taken the initiative on this. But legislation is not enough. What is also needed is a change in attitudes.
To dismantle the mob requires collaboration. It requires people to trust the justice system to ensure that criminals will be punished through due process. It requires politicians to stop explicitly, or implicitly, backing the mob, and instead ensure action against it. And it requires State institutions, particularly the police, to act independently and firmly against injustice of all kinds – from mob lynching to child abductions – to truly ensure that India remains a free, just, peaceful and lawful society.