By Ahmar Afaq and Paras Nath Singh
On July 17 last year, the Supreme Court of India in Tehseen S. Poonawalla vs Union Of India described “lynching” as an affront to the rule of law and to the exalted values of the Constitution itself. The court termed it an extrajudicial attempt under the guise of the protection of the law – a situation that had to be nipped in the bud “lest it would lead to the rise of anarchy and lawlessness that would plague and corrode the nation like an epidemic”.
The Oxford English dictionary defines lynching as an act of killing done by a mob without any legal authority or process involved. In simple term, lynching is defined as a group of people killing a person for an alleged offence without a legal trial.
In India, lynching or targeted violence has occurred mainly on the false suspicion that a person was transporting cattle for slaughter or on the pretext that they were consuming beef. By all account the person has been targeted on the basis of their apparel and appearance – he was either wearing a kurta or skullcap and had a beard.
The apex court had in its judgment referred to Mark Twain to point out that lynching, at one point of time, was so rampant in the United States that the American writer had remarked in his inimitable style that the country had become “the United States of Lyncherdom”. That reference to Mark Twain carried a dire warning.
“Lynching and mob violence are creeping threats that may gradually take the shape of a Typhon-like monster as evidenced in the wake of the rising wave of incidents of recurring patterns by frenzied mobs across the country instigated by intolerance and misinformed by circulation of fake news and false stories,” the then Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, who authored the Poonawalla judgment for himself and Justices A M Khanwalker and D Y Chandrachud said.
Mindful of the destructive consequences of this unchecked, targeted violence, the apex court then went on to issue a set of guidelines to the Central Government, the state governments, and union territories (UTs) – guidelines that were like preventive, remedial and punitive measures to curb the widespread incidents of mob lynching in the country.
From compulsory registration of First Information Reports (FIR), the appointment of a senior police officer as a nodal officer in each district for taking measures to prevent mob violence and lynching, the framing of a victim compensation scheme, a time-bound trial in the cases of mob lynching to departmental action against police or district officials who fail to act against the perpetrators; these were some of the guidelines among that others that were issued by the apex court.
More importantly, the Supreme Court also recommended that Parliament create a separate offence for lynching and provide adequate punishment for the same. The reason for such a recommendation in the court’s own words was that a special statute would instil a sense of fear for law among the people involved in violence of this nature.
Has the apex court’s intervention curbed the incidents of mob lynching? Have law enforcement agencies taken sincere steps to implement the directions of the apex court not only in letter but also in spirit? And what exactly has the Central Government done to bring in special legislation to govern mob lynching.
The Central Government on July 23, 2018, constituted a high-level committee headed by the Union Home Secretary to suggest ways and means and a legal framework to effectively deal with incidents of mob lynching. The recommendation of the committee was to be considered by the Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by the Union Home Minister which in turn would make a recommendation to the Prime Minister. This decision had come a week after the Supreme Court recommended that Parliament enact a special law to deal with incidents of lynching.
According to media reports, the high-level committee chaired by the Union Home Secretary submitted its report to the GoM sometime around August 29, 2018. The details of the report have not been made public. The panel had reportedly explored the possibility of treating lynchings as a separate offence under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) or making a separate law for the same.
It has been almost a year since the high-level committee was formed. Mob lynching continues to take its toll, though the report is yet to see the light of day.
The State has a positive obligation to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all individuals irrespective of race, caste, class or religion. But lynchings continue unabated; state governments have failed miserably in preventing these grotesque incidents. Mere paper compliance with the apex court’s guidelines will not make any difference unless state governments adopt a zero-tolerance policy on lynching.
The latest incident involving 24-year-old Tabrez Ansari in Jharkhand attacked and brutally beaten to death by a mob while being made to chant Jai Sri Ram and Jai Hanuman, is a sordid reminder that lynchings have continued with impunity. The motive is communal, with several such recent incidents involving members of the Muslim community being violently forced to chant ‘Jai Sri Ram’ and ‘Jai Hanuman’ coming to light.
Akhlaq’s violent death in Dadri and its justification by the RSS mouthpiece Panchjanya, the garlanding by Union minister Jayant Sinha of eight men convicted of lynching in Ramgarh, Jharkhand at his residence were just some of the examples of open support that the perpetrators were getting from those in power.
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), in response to an RTI application, has revealed that data on complaints relating to lynching have not been categorized, because there is no incident code to slot them! However, relying on memory within the commission, the NHRC recalled that it had taken suo motu cognizance of 5 cases of lynching and registered complaints in 12 cases. Only in 1 case, did the NHRC order the state government to provide compensation to the victim. Not once has the NHRC reprimanded a state government for their failure to prevent incidents of mob lynching.
This data shared by the NHRC shows its lackadaisical approach in monitoring cases of mob lynching, despite Poonawalla. In a majority of cases, it has simply filed closure reports after obtaining a report from the concerned state government. The NHRC must display a greater sense of urgency by being far more proactive in ensuring justice to the victims of mob violence. In doing so, it will only be discharging its statutory mandate.
The Supreme Court has already done what it could to caution the nation and suggest a framework to urgently attack this ugly Typhon-like monster that is gnawing away at our social fabric. The onus is now on the other pillars of our all-inclusive democracy, the political leadership and its rank and file to not just understand that mob lynching is taking on the characteristics of an epidemic, but that it needs urgent, immediate action before it swallows up our nation.
The Prime Minister needs to walk the talk. He must ensure that his GoM expedites the process of formulating a legal framework to deal with lynching. And his party leaders must refrain from overt and covert support of the accused. (IPA Service)
Courtesy: The Leaflet