October 28, 2021

Mob Lynching in India-The Need for New Laws

Introduction

What is Mob Lynching?

Mob lynching, also known as moral policing is when an angry crowd or mob wants to kill or punish someone without a proper trial just because they think and believe that person has committed a crime. The mob believes that they are punishing the victim for doing something wrong (not necessarily illegal) and they take the law into their own hands to punish the purported accused without following any rules of law. The target of moral policing is any activity that is deemed to be immoral or against culture. The term morality in this time and age has different meanings for different persons and therefore moral policing has different consequences for different persons. The Hon’ble Supreme Court of India refers to mob lynching as a “horrendous act of mobocracy”. Often, innocent people are targeted based on some rumor, misinformation, or suspicion. Lynching is more lethal and demoralizing than communal riots, though they serve the same purpose, that is, to create an environment of distrust and fear in the community and society.

One major incident of mob lynching that shook the entire society was when two monks/sadhus along with their driver were beaten to death by a mob in Palghar district in Maharashtra. The three were traveling from Surat to Mumbai to attend a funeral. Little did they know it was going to be their last drive too. As per reports, this act took place in the presence of police. A video clip shows the elderly monk clinging onto the cop’s hand and the latter shrugging him off.  The main question is why was such a huge mob (consisting of around 200 people), armed with axes, sticks, and stones, allowed to congregate.

A similar incident took place when a lady doctor’s car had been pelted with stones. There were rumors of child-lifters making rounds in that area with the intent to kidnap children for organ harvesting.

Issues and Challenges

The Reasons Behind Moral Policing And Mob Lynching In India

There are various reasons, or you may say root causes as to why mob lynching and moral policing are still prevalent in India. The major reasons are listed and discussed below.

  1. Judiciary: Judicial process being costly, is believed to favor only the rich and affluent, hence poor people resort to moral policing to avoid perceived dishonor leading to blaming of victims. The people and the mob resort to mob lynching due to the long delays in the formal judicial system and its process which yields exactly opposite results of what the society seeks, that is, immediate punishment.
  • Police: The police are a distinct organization as it has been granted the extraordinary powers to use force. Their role is to ensure law and order by acting as guardians of social harmony. But they aggravate traditional patriarchal values because of lack of sensitivity training and awareness about constitutional values, lack of patrolling, work against marginalized and disadvantaged groups, turning blind eye to crimes such as honor killings, domestic violence, and failing to register cases against vigilantes.
  • Laws: The police and the vigilantes use the shield of different laws to punish others in the form of moral policing. For example:

(1) Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 criminalized materials like books and paintings if it is deemed to be obscene. But police personnel use Section 292 to file cases against film posters and advertisement hoardings that are deemed to be obscene. Section 293 deals with the sale of obscene material to people under 20. It also deals with “obscene acts and songs” to the annoyance of others shall be punished with imprisonment or fine or with both. Both police and vigilantes use loopholes in such laws to punish others in the form of moral policing and escape with impunity.

(2) Section 377 of the IPC criminalizes sexual activities against the order of nature, including homosexual sexual activities. It is used by police and vigilantes to oppress and curb the rights of the LGBT community.

(3) The Immoral traffic (prevention) act (PITA) was originally passed to prevent human trafficking. But it has been used by police to raid hotels if they suspect a sex racket being run there even without proper evidence, thus embarrassing legal couples and young people.

Why is it Wrong?

Some people think it should be done for the betterment of society as it will stop all the physical assaults and the other crimes that are being committed and that it is the best way to punish the offender. But it is not right to punish for a crime which is not yet happened or to punish those who may not be involved in any crime.

There are many times when this practice hinders the basic fundamental rights of the citizen enshrined in the constitution such as the right to freedom of speech & expression, right to privacy, right to live with dignity, etc.  Thus moral policing and mob lynching threaten democracy in the long run.

Moral Policing in extreme cases causes violence, killings, and damage to property which threaten marginalized communities. For example, Hindu religious fanatics propagate violence and threaten the minority in the name of the protection of cows. Sentimental people with sensitive religious beliefs are often the mob lynchers who stomp over the fundamental rights of the ones who they believe to have committed a wrong. For example, the slaughtering of cows is a sensitive issue in India as the animal is considered sacred by Hindus, who comprise 80% of the country’s 1.2bn people. There was an incident where a 50-year-old man in northern India was killed in a mob lynching allegedly over rumors that his family had been storing and consuming beef at home.

Laws/Bills Proposed in India Relating to Mob Lynching

The primary argument of the activists and lawyers advocating an anti-lynching law is that it fills a void in our criminal jurisprudence. It is true that at present no law criminalizes mob killings. The Indian Penal Code has provisions for unlawful assembly, rioting, and murder but nothing that takes cognizance of a group of people coming together to kill (a lynch mob).

1.THE MANIPUR PROTECTION FROM LYNCHING BILL, 2018

The first state to propose a bill regarding mob lynching was Manipur. The Manipur government came up first with its Bill against lynching in 2018, incorporating some logical and relevant clauses. The Bill specified that there would be nodal officers in each district to control such crimes. Police officers who fail to prevent the crime of lynching in their jurisdiction are liable to be imprisoned for a term that may extend from one to three years with a fine limit of ₹50,000. Additionally, no concurrence of the State government is required to prosecute them for dereliction of duty. It devolves upon the State to protect victims of mob violence and witnesses from any inducement or coercion apart from initiating schemes for rehabilitation and setting up relief camps. The law provides for adequate monetary compensation to the victims or their immediate kin.

2. THE RAJASTHAN PROTECTION FROM LYNCHING BILL, 2019

The Rajasthan legislative assembly too passed ‘The Rajasthan Protection from Lynching Bill, 2019’ which provided for life imprisonment and a fine from ₹1 lakh to ₹5 lakh to those convicted in cases of mob lynching leading to victim’s death. ‘The Rajasthan Protection from Lynching Bill, 2019’ was passed by the Vidhan Sabha by a voice vote amid vociferous protest by the Opposition BJP, which wanted the Bill to be referred to a select committee. The Bill was introduced by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mr. Shanti Dhariwal in the State Assembly. According to him, the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code have provisions to deal with the cases of mob lynching incidents, but they are not adequate. Accordingly, the government has brought the Bill to provide for stricter punishment to curb such incidents.

3. THE WEST BENGAL PREVENTION FROM LYNCHING BILL, 2019

The next State to propose and pass the bill was West Bengal. The West Bengal Assembly passed a bill to prevent and punish mob assaults and lynchings. The West Bengal (Prevention of Lynching) Bill, 2019 was passed with Left and Congress legislators joining the Treasury benches in supporting it. The legislation says that “nodal officers” will be appointed to “monitor and coordinate prevention of lynching”. It proposes a jail term from three years to life for those involved in assaulting and injuring a person. The Bill, while defining terms such as “lynching” and “mob”, says the West Bengal Lynching Compensation Scheme may be framed under this Act. West Bengal came up with the most stringent Bill against lynching. According to the bill, punishment for lynching to death is punishable with the death penalty or life imprisonment and a fine of up to ₹5 lakh.

  • THE PROTECTION FROM LYNCHING ACT, 2017 (DRAFT)

The Protection of Lynching Act, 2017 also known as the Manav Suraksha Bill (MASUKA) put forth by the National Campaign against Mob Lynching (NCAML), defined, for the first time in Indian legal history, the terms ‘lynching’, ‘mob’ and ‘victim’. It was introduced in the Rajya Sabha as a private member’s bill. It gained more traction after Prime Minister Narendra Modi made comments against cow vigilantism. It reconciles the definition of the term ‘mob’ as mentioned in the IPC and CrPC to require five or more persons as opposed to this Bill, wherein, two or more persons resorting to violence by extrajudicial means would constitute a mob. Provision was made for Special Courts for the expeditious trial of such offenses and the rehabilitation of the victim and/ or their families. It made lynching a non-bailable offense, criminalized dereliction of duty by a policeman, criminalized incitement on social media, and stipulated that adequate compensation be paid, within a definite time frame, to victims and survivors. It also guaranteed a speedy trial and witness protection. The effect of this Bill, however, remains dormant until it is passed by the legislature.

Cases Under Trial

  1. 2020 PALGHAR MOB LYNCHING

On 16 April 2020, a vigilante group lynched two Hindu Sadhus and their driver in Gadchinchale Village, Palghar District,  Maharashtra, India.  It was the time of countrywide coronavirus lockdown when there were rumors of thieves operating in the area. Three men were lynched by a mob in Maharashtra’s Palghar district after allegedly suspecting them to be child kidnappers and organ harvesters. The three were driving to a funeral in Surat when a group of villagers in Gadchinchle, a tribal village in a remote part of Palghar, stopped their car and attacked them with stones, logs, and axes. The police officers from the Kasa police station located 35 kilometers away arrived at the scene. But by the time they came, the mob had overturned the vehicle in which the three victims were traveling and even threatened the policemen. Videos have been shot by bystanders that show the three policemen covering the overturned car, which was being pelted with stones, wooden logs, and axes.

However, videos that have subsequently emerged from the lynching show police standing mutely even as the crowd attacks the three. In one particular clip, a lone policeman can be seen pushing away one of the victims who try to hold on to him to get away from the mob. Police said that they fired shots in the air to disperse the mob, but is that all that they were supposed to do at the time of the imminent danger and later act as mute spectators while the mob continued with their execution of cold-blooded murders.

The mob constituted an unlawful assembly under Section 141 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, and police were authorized to use force to disperse that assembly vide Section 129 of the CrPC, 1973. Under the law, the illegal act includes illegal omission (S. 32 IPC). Police were legally bound to protect the people being hounded and their inaction amounts to an illegal omission for which they can be booked under section 299 (culpable homicide) of the Indian Penal Code.

  • 2015 DADRI MOB LYNCHING

The 2015 Dadri mob lynching refers to a case of mob lynching in which a mob of villagers attacked the home of 52-year-old Mohammed Akhlaq, killing him, for suspicion of slaughtering a cow. The attack took place at night, on 28 September 2015 in Bisara village, near Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, India. The mob consisting of local villagers, attacked Akhlaq’s house with sticks, bricks, and knives, saying that they suspected of him stealing and slaughtering a cow-calf. The mob dragged the entire family outside and Akhlaq and Danish were repeatedly kicked, hit with bricks, and stabbed. The family’s neighbors tried to stop the mob but were not able to. The police were called and arrived an hour later. 52-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq Saifi died in the attack, and his son, 22-year-old Danish, was seriously injured. A first information report (FIR) was filed naming ten of the attackers based on the testimony of the family members. The FIR contained charges under Sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting with a deadly weapon), 149 (unlawful assembly), 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 458 (house-breaking), and 504 (intentional insult with intent to breach of the peace) of the Indian Penal Code. The records show that while there were 25 hearings on the case in 2016, the number fell to 12 in 2017 and there have been only six hearings in 2020 so far.

Conclusion

One thing that is very surprising is that in our IPC and CrPC, there is no definition of lynching. Many people deny the barbaric act to be mob lynching and instead prefer to call it ‘selective outrage’. Lynching has become more like a festival in India, that is, has been celebrated for many years, occurs now and then every 2 to 3 months. It has become the new normal in India. Unfortunately, many people have become victims of the rising hate in our country. Though lynching is not a new concept, the real problem started from the 2015 Dadri lynching case. People are mercilessly killed in the name of cow protection and the politicians continue to support the cause.

While the politicians are supporting it, the public doesn’t seem to care and the police are harassing victims instead of arresting the criminals. Innocent people are dying because of communal hatred.

People are being polarized in the name of religion. At the moment, we need to ask ourselves that does human life mean nothing? When the unemployment rates are gradually becoming the highest in decades, do we need to generate employment opportunities or waste the time and effort in fooling them in the name of religion?

“When an innocent becomes a victim of mob lynching, humanity dies a million deaths”

~Bhuneshwar Paswan

Author- Dhwani Shrivastava (VIPS, GGSIPU)

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