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States obliged to prevent lynchings and mob attacks: Supreme Court

The Supreme Court reserved its verdict on petitions against lynchings but CJI Dipak Misra said an elaborate judgment is required to be passed to prevent incidents.

india Updated: Jul 03, 2018 20:12 IST
Bhadra Sinha
Bhadra Sinha
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
lynchings,cow vigilantes,mob attacks
A view of Supreme Court building on February 12, 2018. (Sonu Mehta/HT PHOTO)

States are under obligation to prevent lynchings and mob violence and such incidents cannot happen by the remotest chance, the Supreme Court said on Tuesday, while hearing a bunch of petitions on attacks by self-styled cow vigilantes, but also against the backdrop of a recent spate of mob attacks in the country.

On Sunday, five people were lynched in Dhule, Maharashtra, on suspicion of being child-lifters.

“Whether there is a law or not [against lynching], nobody should be allowed to take law into their hands,” said a bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra. The court reserved orders on petitions filed last year in the wake of a rise in violence by cow vigilantes.

As many as 22 people have been reportedly beaten to death in different parts of the country since the first week of May following rumours, mostly propagated on social media and messaging platforms, that peddle fear of outsiders kidnapping children. Police and government warnings to people not to believe in such messages have gone unheeded; indeed, in Tripura, a mob lynched a person hired by the government to dispel such rumours.

The first incident was reported from Tamil Nadu in the first week of May followed by a few from Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. In June, two persons, including a Mumbai based sound engineer, were beaten to death in Assam. Then came Dhule.

CJI Dipak Misra said an elaborate judgment is required to be passed to prevent incidents of mob lynching. “States are under obligation and the courts also have to see that they are prevented,” Justice Misra said.

The bench clarified that the court would not go into the motives behind such incidents as they were all acts of mob crime. The court also indicated that its judgment will provide for compensation for the victims of such crime and refused to recognise religion, sex, caste or creed as the criteria for compensation. The clarification was perhaps necessitated by the excuse often trotted out to explain mob behaviour: that the victim “deserved it”.

“A victim of crime is a victim. Compensation will be determined on the basis of injury suffered — whether it’s simple, rigorous or death. A victim is someone who lives under constant fear,” the CJI said. The court decided to write a detailed verdict after the Centre said a scheme or a statutory framework to control incidents of lynching was not required.

Additional solicitor general PS Narasimha said the incidents reflected a problem of law and order in the state concerned and on its part the Union of India had issued advisories to all states on how to take preventive measures.

The SC had on September 6 directed all states to appoint nodal officers to prevent incidents of cow vigilantism.

On Tuesday, senior counsel Indira Jaising pressed for contempt action against the states for violating the top court’s order. She said despite the directives mob lynching continued with impunity and states had failed to respect the judgment. Jaising was arguing on behalf of social activist Tushar Gandhi and narrated the recent lynching incidents in Maharashtra and the National Capital Region (NCR).

“Despite your order to the States to appoint nodal officers to prevent such incidents, recently there was a lynching and death just 60 km away from Delhi,” she submitted.

Her reference is to the killing by a mob on XXXXX of an alleged cattle smuggler in Hapur, Uttar Pradesh.

Jaising said the incidents went “beyond the description of law and order”. “There is a pattern and a motive behind them. For instance, all these instances happen on highways. This court had called for patrolling of the highways,” she submitted.

The CJI asked Jaising to not confine her arguments to any pattern or motive. “All these incidents are instances of mob violence,” he responded.

The CJI wondered whether the Centre could frame a scheme under Article 256 to give directions to the states to prevent/control such incidents, to which Narasimha disagreed. “The question here is whether states can implement your [court] directions,” the ASG said.

Jaising called upon the Union to back up its advisories to the states with action. “The Union feels responsible... we don’t need to be advised by you,” the ASG said.

“There is a difference between ‘feeling’ and ‘action,” Jaising replied, demanding the compensation be determined on the fact that the victims are being targeted for their religion and caste.

“Each State shall be held responsible. Law and order is the State’s responsibility,” the CJI observed orally, assuring Jaising that her contempt petition will be kept alive. This means that the court will continue monitoring the implementation of its judgment.

First Published: Jul 03, 2018 18:54 IST