Mob violence

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Calling for a special law to deal with lynching cases, the Supreme Court order send a strong message about the growing menace of mob violence which claimed many precious lives across the country. The vigilante violence assuming the form of organized mob violence targeting particularly the cattle traders in the name of cow protection, it has taken a new turn in different parts of the country. The violence targeting some members of the minority community was an organized vigilantism, the recent spate of killings appears to be impulsive and unplanned acts of violence mainly fuelled by rumour and panic inducing social media messages. It is very unfortunate that social messages that have been in circulation without any check particularly on WhatsApp platform have been fuelling violence against some innocent persons from panic-stricken groups of people. The latter have sadly targeted people, some of them totally unaware of the situation prevailing in some parts of the country which had no link with them. In some cases, the organized mob violence has targeted the people, who had nothing to do with either cattle transportation or were simply involved in movement of animals on bi-annual migration of the nomadic tribes. The latter have been totally unaware of machinations of the organized mobs that resorted to violence against the nomads for no fault of theirs. In fact, the number of cases which witnessed an increase during the past few years after the NDA-government took over the reins four and half years back. Though it has been condemned by the rulers, but some of the elements from within the government have endorsed the actions of the lynch mobs in different parts of the country. It was only last year that the Supreme Court reminded the centre and the states that they cannot remain silent while the vigilantes take law into their own hands in the name of cow protection. It was particularly after some of the organized mob violence cases targeted cattle traders and cattle owners, who were moving their live stock to their home towns or villages. The Supreme Court asked all the states to appoint nodal officers in each district to curb mobs. While the incidence of lynching and violence committed by self-styled gau rakshaks appear to have reduced since then, the killing and attacks on those mistaken to be child-kidnappers have had a disquieting rise. The police say the circulation of videos and other messages about child-lifters through messaging Apps is the main reason. In its detailed order, the Supreme Court has significantly located lynching and vigilante violence in a socio-political framework linked to disrespect for an inclusive social order, rising intolerance and growing polarization in the country. There is an implicit indictment of the preponderant mood of the times when it says that “hate crimes as a product of intolerance, ideological dominance and prejudice ought not to be tolerated.” Apart from directing specific preventive, punitive and remedial measures, a three-judge Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India has mooted the idea of making lynching a separate offence. The order says a special law would ‘instill a sense of fear’ among those involved in organized crimes like this. Whether a special law is enough to ensure a greater level of deterrence is open to question, especially so when murder and mob violence are covered by existing provisions. But for sending this message out, the Supreme Court has ensured that the issue cannot be brushed under the carpet and has forced those who govern us to pay special attention towards curbing this madness. Any legislation though should be comprehensive, covering not only incidents of lynching, but also the extent to which criminality can be apportioned among rumour-mongers, instigators, principal offenders and those who are parties to the crime. It is also worth consideration by the highest court of the land whether it should penalize those who do nothing to stop such crimes or help bring the offenders to book. The Supreme Court judgment places the onus on the law and order machinery to prevent and punish lynching. But attention must be paid to what it says on the role of bigotry, rejection of plurality and diversity in creating an atmosphere where human beings are dehumanised: one in which freedom of speech, expression and personal choices are endangered and threatened by some fringe elements.