D. K. Kapoor
Mob lynching, gang lynching or group lynching is an ancient despicable practice of identifiable few maniacs by which they resort to barbarian killing of others, the reason may be one or many. Etymologically, in America’s Virginia there was a judge named Justice Lynch. It was his way of justice to get someone lynched by the mob. This word came into vogue since his times. Lynching, at one point of time, was so rampant in the United States that Mark Twain sarcastically commented that it had become “the United States of Lyncherdom”. Similarly Supreme Court of India also observed that Lynching and mob violence are creeping threats that may gradually take the shape of a Typhone-like monster (A Greek monster with a hundred heads who breath out flames), as evinced in the wake of the upsurge of incidents of recurring patterns by frenzied mobs across the country, instigated by intolerance and misinformed by spreading rumors that violent groups of diverse ideologues have been resorting to this most inhumane and heartless practice since eternity. We remember the times when an offender condemned by law was used to be done to death by stoning at the command of the ruler or Mullah/Qazi or clergymen etc. There will be no exaggeration saying that small groups despotically arrogate to themselves and ruthlessly kill people on lame excuses simply because in their eye they were guilty of the commission of some penal offence. In such cases personal vendetta of the junta against the hapless victim cannot be ruled out. Such groups do not have even scant respect for the rule of law. With the passage of time this mindset took such a ghastly shape that various self-claimed groups across the world would themselves indulge in this most abhorrent practice without even the writ of law and their musclemen would kill the defiant poor. Examples are innumerable.
A few groups of intelligentsia of India say that mob-lynching may be a premeditated extrajudicial killing by a group of disgruntled persons, but in all cases premeditation may not be predominant. Cases are conceivable where such incidents take place on the spur of moment, reasons may be manifold. Instances of lynching and similar mobocracy violence are not restricted in India only, but may be found in every country and society. There used to be lynching by United States of African Americans. After September 11/2001 attacks on New York World Trade Center, groups of Americans are alleged to have done to death a number of persons bearing long beard including Sikhs believing that they were followers of Obama cult. An unruly mob losing no time publicly lynching Farkhunda Malik, a young girl of 27 years on the accusation of burning Quran, are a few spine chilling examples of this gruesome practice. Brunei was another person allegedly stoned to death for professing new Islamic tenets that suggested anal sex and adultery as punishable offences. People cannot forget the daylight lynching of Christian couple by burning them alive in Kasur in Pakistan, Mashal Khan was lynched in a University besides lynching two brothers Mugheez and Muneeb in Sialkot. The Nowhatta mob lynching of J&K Police Dy.S.P Muhammad Ayub Pandith near Jamia Masjid, Srinagar in Kashmir and mutilating his body inhumanely still sends a wave of horror in people’s mind. The 2015 Dadri mob lynching refers to a fatally gruesome attack by agitated mob of villagers killing 52 year old Mohammed Akhlaq @ Ikhlaq on suspicion of slaughtering a cow. A Bengal Madarsa teacher was pushed off a running train for not saying Jai Shree Ram. There are certain more despicable examples e.g. mob-lynch on the excuse of cows-trafficking; child-lifting; acts of sacrilege etc. A survey says that estimated 297 hate crimes were reported across India from 2009 to 2019 that led to the death of 987 people, while 722 people were injured. In 1947 systematic violence, after the independence of Pakistan, lakhs of Hindus were lynched and during anti-Sikh riots, thousands of Sikhs were killed in 1984.
The above figures are in addition to numerous other incidents that go unreported. The biggest mob lynching in the recent past that has left indelible bruises is the attack on Kashmiri Pundits in their homeland a number of whom were killed by unruly mobs and others brutally injured and hounded to flee from their homes in Kashmir and now living as miserable refugees’ (migrants) life in parts of their own home State and other parts of country.
Despite serious concern at all levels including political outcry of parties, NGOs, media persons, cine personalities and civil society, people from all walks of life are worried about the day-in and day-out spate in such sporadic incidents regarding which no viable solution is in the offing so that this contagious deadly disease is rooted out. The barbarian mob lynching is spreading like malignant epidemic without any antidote in sight to prevent and curb this inhumane approach among a few. Now, the elite including 49 prominent personalities of India have invited attention of Prime Minister of India Narender Modi through a letter seeking his indulgence to legislate stringent laws providing exemplary punishment to the guilty. One wonders whether behind every such lynching there is a crowd of maniacs and all killings are unprovoked. The answer would simply be ‘no’. There are instances where some people offer affront to the religious sentiments of others which would egg on public fury. The Hindus have staunch faith that cow is a sacred animal. There is vast section of Hindus who worship cow in motherly reverence. If some people would eat beef (cow meat) and that too in full public view or slaughter cows and smuggle bovines for the obvious purpose and still dare Hindus to stop such evil-designers, this is sure to send a shock wave among believers of Sanatan tenets and injure their religious sentiments, consequences would surely be unimaginably retributive.
Making stringent laws to punish the perpetrators, abettors and conspirators and implementing such laws to deal with the offenders with iron hands is the need of the hours. A number of the Indian laws prescribe that the accused is presumed innocent and the prosecution is burdened to prove him guilty. The available figures would speak that majority of cases result in acquittal even in cases of ghastly offences by the courts on the basis of benefit of doubt. Let’s not forget ‘the graver the offence, the stricter the proof’ is also well known legal axiom that cannot be lost sight of by legislating any such laws. It is suggested that in any laws that may be made in this connection burden of proof must be on the accused to prove him innocent, as presently a few laws prescribe lest there should be mass acquittal and any legislation in this connection will be rendered a toothless tiger. Let me quote the recent acquittal of accused person in Pehlu Khan’s case by Sessions Court in Alvar. This may be recapitulated that in July 2018, a Bench headed by the then CJI Supreme Court of India (Justice Deepak Misra) had issued guidelines for preventive, remedial and punitive measures for the rampant increase in incidents of lynching in India and recently the Apex court of the country has issued notices to the Centre, National Human Rights Commission and State Governments seeking implementation of the Apex Court’s 2018 guidelines. The Apex Judicial body of the country, condemning the increasing number of incidents of mob lynching, described such acts as “horrendous acts of mobocracy”. The 2018 Apex Court guidelines are summarized here for public knowledge. These areas- State Govt. shall designate a Superintendent of police as Nodal Officer with a Dy.S.P for prevention of incidents of mob lynching etc. procure intelligence reports about the people who are likely to commit such crimes or who are involved in spreading hate speeches, provocative statements and fake news; identify within timeframe sensitive areas propagating such activities in last five years; The Home Department of the Government of India must work in co-ordination with the State Governments for sensitizing the law enforcement agencies and by involving all stakeholders to identify the measures for prevention of mob violence and lynching against any caste or community and to implement the constitutional goal of social justice and the Rule of Law; wide publicity shall be given to aware people of serious consequence under the law for indulging in such activities; to curb and stop dissemination of irresponsible and explosive messages through any means and register FIR under section 153A of IPC. Supreme Court has also suggested some remedial measure like SHO concerned to register FIR and investigation of such incidents shall be personally monitored by Nodal Officer; State Governments shall prepare a lynching/mob violence victim compensation scheme and such cases will be tried by the designated fast track court and on proof of offence, the court shall award maximum sentence provided in the relevant sections charged against the offenders, of course by adhering to principles of natural justice. Besides, these guidelines also provide punitive measures for delinquent police officers.
Nevertheless, in spite of comprehensive guidelines proposed by the Apex Court a year ago there doesn’t seem any encouraging results, let alone the implementing agencies explain where the fault lies. As said hereinbefore, the Apex Court is seized of the PIL titled Anti-Corruption Council of India Trust v/s Union of India, a bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Deepak Gupta issued notices to the Ministry of Home Affairs and State governments on July 26, 2019 asking why it has not implemented a slew of directions issued last year to curb lynching and mob violence. This, however, cannot go without saying that in a bid to curb incidents of lynching, Rajasthan Government pioneered to introduce a stringent bill in the State Assembly against mob lynching that provides for life imprisonment and heavy fines to those convicted in fatal mob-lynching incidents including inflicting injuries. The Bill is in tune with Supreme Court guidelines, but rest of the states have yet to make special laws to curb mob lynching. It is suggested in this context that this evil need to be nipped in the bud, any further delay in legislating against mob-lynching can generate alarming proportions in various sensitive parts of this country. It is not too late. This is high time to legislate against the rotten fish lest it should pollute the entire serene atmosphere.
(The author is retired District and Sessions Judge)
D. K. Kapoor