Debating mob lynching is the new national obsession. Surely there is a need to feel concerned but kicking up hysteria over the issue only heightens tension among communities. The media tells you that mobs are currently on a killing spree against Muslims, Dalits, Adivasis, Africans and Afro-Asians. And, opposition political parties are quick to blame Hindu vigilantes for these extra-judicial murders, claiming that they want victims to accept their religious practices.
Liberal commentators and social activists cry hoarse that it has put India’s diversity under severe stress and thrown its secular ethos in flames. The Supreme Court is worried that if mob-vigilantism is not nipped in the bud, anarchy and lawlessness will plague and corrode the nation like an epidemic.
The impact of the fear-mongering has been staggering. A Muslim cleric threatens that if lynching is Muslims’ fate, then they must work for partitioning India. The MIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi has sought 33 percent reservation in the armed and security forces for Muslims so that the fresh recruits can secure Muslims against the majority Hindus.
Mob lynching is not a new phenomenon in our country. It has conspicuously featured in all 29 major communal riots since independence. The difference is that we witness it more often now. As people’s aspirations have increased disproportionately high, social and religious conflicts have deepened and governance and timely judicial relief has taken a back seat. As many as 2,724 mob-lynching cases were reported during 2000-14 from 19 states. An unverified report claims that over 5,600 incidents went unreported during this period in the absence of a vigilant media and a strong Opposition.
After NDA formed the government, 657 lynching cases came to notice. Of these, 89 were cow and beef-related and the victims were Muslims (22), Dalits (57) and Adivasis (10). In the remaining 568 incidents, mobs killed those who were allegedly involved in theft, cattle smuggling, child-lifting, communal clashes, inter-caste and inter-faith marriages, honour disruptions, witchcraft, rape, sexual violence and road accidents. Child-lifting alone accounted for 139 cases.
These numbers are miniscule when you compare them to 39,000 cases of heinous crime, committed during the same period, unless one ignores them as unavoidable. Evidently, the distress expressed over mob lynching is exaggerated and selective. The attempts to label killers as Hindu, Muslim, Dalit and Jaat is also mischievous. They are simply murderers and have to be punished as such.
The question is how to combat this evil. The Supreme Court has suggested that the Parliament make a special law and provide for stringent punishment. But if laws were panacea, we wouldn’t have murders, rapes and brutalisation of children nor Naxalites and terrorists would kill innocent civilians. We have laws for punishing the entire community if it incites communal and sectarian violence, but only in four instances, community members have been punished in the last 71 years.
The Supreme Court also wants to make the superintendent of police (SP) accountable and create a task force to provide prior and effective intelligence. This may not help because crowds turn into lynching mobs in a split second. They are like a flash flood which gives no warning but devastates. In such situations, an SP can react only after the event is over and intelligence can help identify suspects, only later.
The morale of the police is in boots. No one stands for a policeman—politicians, bureaucrats, judges, social activists and people—unless he is corrupt and spineless. Shacked with doubts, distrust, lack of financial resources and threats of judicial scrutiny, he is unsure, vulnerable and reluctant. How do you expect a mob to be afraid of such a policeman? If the US is not worse than India in racial and religious crimes, it is because enforcement agencies there are dreaded by everyone and no one can dare ‘influence’ their actions. Why only police? Even a passport officer gets summarily removed because he asks questions. Can the same applicants dare repeat their theatrics before the US immigration?
The fear of law is actually non-existent in India. We consider entitlements as our divine right.
We shout for unbridled freedom, only as an insurance to commit more offences. We prefer remaining onlookers to restraining attackers. We want to get rid of criminals but resent encounters. We like terrorism to end but refuse to accept collateral damages. We seek curb on rumours and fake news but won’t tolerate police to infringe on our right to privacy. This hypocrisy has to end if we want to live peacefully in a civilised society.
Former special secretary, Research and Analysis Wing