The Supreme Court’s anguish about the recurrence of incidents of “mobocracy” in lynching people is understandable. The judges’ well-intentioned advice is worth listening to. The need to stress on lynching as a criminal offence whose consequences will be dire is also timely. Awareness must spread if people aren’t to take the law into their own hands. But the issue boils down to how efficiently the system — the executive, represented by the police, and the judiciary, by judges of all courts, ranging from fast-track courts on heinous crimes to the Supreme Court — which can implement what is written in the statutes. We already have some of the best and most stringent laws to tackle crimes like the lynching. What is needed is the will to execute them so that the message goes out that mob justice won’t be tolerated.
A study of such crimes in the recent past, from 2015 when 200 cases of rough and ready justice meted out by mobs were recorded by Amnesty International, reveals three sections who are most vulnerable — Muslims lynched following rumours of killing cows for the beef trade, dalits attacked by the upper castes for acting “above their stature”, innocent people hounded on the basis of rumours that they are child-lifters and destitute women regarded as witches. In the case of at least one lynching case, a fast-track court handed out death sentences to several people, but they went in appeal to a higher court, which of course is their right, but they are probably betting on the dawdling justice system giving them a very long breather before they face final sentencing. They would then still have the option of clemency appeals on compassionate grounds to the President. The fact that, in the interim, such people are even felicitated by those in power points to the kind of support and encouragement such animal behaviour seems to receive in the present environment.
The dangers of this new trend of assailing those on ideological or any other ground were further emphasised in the manhandling of the renowned environmentalist Swami Agnivesh.
It’s because some seem to get away with such strong-arm tactics that goons are encouraged into thinking these tactics can be reprised. Rising intolerance and polarisation is only one side of the negative inputs triggering such acts as are an affront to the basic civilisational tenets modern societies abide by. A special emphasis on the threat posed to a harmonious society must be laid in the way the executive acts to rein in such elements. If this isn’t done, and mobs are allowed to have their way, then the new normal in law and order can only lead to anarchy. To staunch the threat in time is the challenge the states must live up to, and quickly.