In today’s world, every person has the right to live with dignity and the right to choose their religion, in addition to being guaranteed Fundamental and Constitutional Rights. However, no one has the authority to kill somebody without lawful justification. As we can see in recent years, the reoccurring incident of lynching led to the rise of the burning question against lawful authority to make strict legislation against mobs who think they have right to punish someone without trial. It is about time we woke up and looked into this matter. However, before going into the details of this contemporary social problem, one must ask themselves what their perception is on a mob.
Let us start with a small story about lynching. In the 17th -18th century during the American-African revolution, the word lynch probably originated from what is frequently known as ‘lynch law.’ Lynching is the extrajudicial homicide of a person without lawful justification or authority.
Mob refers to an outrageous crowd that is uncontrollable. In our society, every offence has a counter law, for example, rape is under POCSO (protection of children from sexual offence), murder in section 302 [which tells about homicide by person to kill another person] and in mob lynching, where multiple people kill one or more persons. These types of crimes are not new to India or to the world.
Earlier in many countries, mobs would kill people on the basis of their skin colour or race and in India, caste [hereditary social recognition] based violence was prevalent and is less, to some extent these days.
Mob lynching based on the causes can be classified into these types:
➢ Digital lynching
➢ Regional and religious misconception
➢ Theft cases
➢ Honor killing
Digital lynching, a new way of mob-related violence
WhatsApp lynching is an aspect of mob related violence and killing, following the spread of rumours which have direct impact on child abduction and organ harvesting via WhatsApp. The spate of lynching commenced in May 2017 with the killing of seven men in Jharkhand, which was not highlighted by media.
Through online means, many fake or false news spread like wildfire. It is about time we took the issue of digital lynching seriously. The Indian Government should notify all corporate players, like Facebook, WhatsApp etc. to make specific departments of grievance and appoint grievance officers to curb and take down fake messages that have prompted a rash of lynching, amongst other controversies, in India. It is about time that we increased surveillance in the virtual world.
A notable incident took place in Palgarh on the 16th of April 2020, where a vigilante group, outraged by a WhatsApp rumour about thieves, led those people to mob-lynch two Sadhus and a driver. When the police tried to make an intervention, they were attacked by the mob.
These incidents are not new in India. WhatsApp rumours have single-handedly claimed 29 lives. But the real question is that why don’t people think about it?
This lynching is not based on religion, caste or politics, but based on rumour and misunderstanding that occurs throughout the digital world.
Let’s talk about the child lifting story of Tripura.
Zahid Khan,30, and two of his companions were attacked in Murabari on June 28. They tried to convince the mob that they were garment hawkers, and still they were dragged out of a van and were being brutally thrashed. They ran to a nearby Tripura State Rifles (TSR) camp, with the mob following them. Even as the police and some locals tried to save them, Zahid died because of fear and misinterpretation.
The regional and religious misconception
“NCRB [National crime records bureau] does not maintain specific data with respect to lynching incidents in the country”[i] and many cases in India have not been registered. Maximum cases of religion-based lynching connect to cow slaughtering, where maximum times the cow slaughterer gets killed by a mob. In many cases, the exporter, whose only purpose is to transport meat and not beef, is attacked by a mob, which is unaware of the exporter’s job. No, I am not saying that cow slaughtering is justifiable but there is a proper legal procedure that one is supposed to abide by. A mob must be held accountable for their actions pertaining to their misdoings.
Historically, caste violence against Dalits has been performed under various pretexts, including mob lynching. Nevertheless, such crimes are frequently under-reported or ignored throughout the inquiry process. The barbarous caste system, found in Vedic literature, encourages people to commit such atrocities.
“Casteism was not new in India but in southern India mellavalavu massacre refers to the murder of six people belonging to Dalit community and also of killed panchayat president ”.[ii] Some brutal caste based lynching and anti-brahmin riot started after the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi by Nathuram Godse, who was a brahmin.
Mob-lynching emerging deaths based on witch-hunting is disturbing and shocking in itself. We have come to know about various cases and incidents regarding witch-hunt in villages where women get killed or attacked by mobs brutally on the allegations of witch practice. Various incidents have been reported where women are being raped and beaten to death by mobs, just on the rumours, assumptions and/ or allegations that she is witch.
Illiteracy and lack of awareness regarding the legislations and respective rights make them suffer even more because women today have been armored with special rights and privileges and of course “each and every citizen has the right to live with respect and dignity guaranteed under Article 21” and thus, are entitled to claim equal respect.
“One report indicates that 2,097 such murders were committed between 2000 and 2012 in at least 12 states ”.[iii] Living in the 21st century, we are way more educated now and have made developments in almost all areas. It is quite disheartening to read such reports in tabloids, even in today’s day and age, where people still believe in these ancient concepts. It is very sad to see that women go through all this, even today.
For a variety of causes, mob resort to lynching the accused, including theft of household pets, jewels, or even house burglary. “A 28-year-old person was beaten to death in a small village in Tinsukia district of Assam by a mob which suspected him to be a cow thief. Police have arrested 12 people in this connection. ” [iv]
Honor killings and honor crimes are acts of criminal violence committed against young couples who are about to marry or have already married without their families’ or society’s consent. “Each and every citizen of India has the right and freedom to choose his/her partner whom he/she wants to marry guaranteed under Article 21”.
But our Indian culture and society don’t permit it wholeheartedly and thus, those who wish to do so and try to do so, achieve the same by eloping. It is not uncommon that we learn about couples who marry for love get killed by either of their family members or mobs if seen roaming around together, especially in rural areas.
Our society is lacking when it comes to dealing with an accused, lawfully. Every individual has a set of Fundamental Rights but no one is entitled to punish anyone without holding any authority. The Judiciary is responsible to punish the accused. These days we see many cases where a victim is being killed, raped and tortured, just on the basis of allegations. Why talk about cases that have been happening in villages, if these things are happening in cities and towns these days?
“Kerala, southern Indian state having 96.2% literacy rate where Ajesh, a 30 year old man alleged for theft was kidnapped and fatally assaulted for nearly seven hours, went through brutal physical harassment by the group of men who hanged him, beat him with sticks, filled his mouth with a piece of cloth to prevent him from screaming, and burned his abdomen and private parts with hot metal object. ”[v] This incident shows that despite having a literate population, Kerala is not immune to lynching.
Jharkhand has seen one of the highest number of deaths due to lynching in India. Yet, the Jharkhand High Court dismissed a Petition filed by Harsh Mander on June 26, 2020, seeking responses from the State Government on the implementation of the Tehseen S. Poonawalla guidelines of the Supreme Court to tackle the rising cases of mob lynching.[vi]
Guidelines were not being followed in Jharkhand; such as no speedy trials, failure to provide compensation to the victims or their families and failure to prevent mob violence from continuing among others.
There should be proper legislation and implementation regarding lynching as we don’t have proper legislation and thus, are not able to curb lynching properly. Every time an uncontrolled mob kills an innocent individual, humanity perishes. If these violent crimes continue to occur, it will have irrevocable consequences for the democratic principles that have created India’s identity.
[i] Alison Saldanha, BJP govt tells Parliament no data available on mob lynching; fact check shows this isn’t entirely true, Firstpost (20th July 2018), https://www.firstpost.com/india/narendra-modi-govt-claims-in-parliament-no-data-available-onmob-lynching-heres-a-fact-check-4782661.html
[ii] Prabhakar Tamilarasu,“22 years after melavalavu massacre what has changed –and what hasn’t (25th November 2019), https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/1997_Melavalavu_massacre
[iii] Crime in India year 2015, NCRB (17th June 2019),https://ncrb.gov.in/en/crime-india-year-2015
[iv] Hemanta Kumar Nath, Man lynched over cow theft suspicion in Assam’s Tinsukia, 12 nabbed, India Today (13th June 2021), https://www.indiatoday.in/crime/story/man-lynched-over-cow-theft-suspicion-in-assam-stinsukia-12-nabbed-1814269-2021-06-13
[v] Muhammed Sabith, independent journalist, The Wire (December 2019), https://thewire.in/rights/kerala-lynching-mob-attack
[vi] Ankita Ramgopal and Swati Singh, two years since SC Judgement, the spectre of mob violence continues to loom large, The Wire (August 2020), https://thewire.in/rights/two-years-since-sc-judgment-the-spectre-of-mob-violencecontinues-to-loom-large
~ Authored by Rishabh Raj & Ritik Sinha