The country is in turmoil, facing a unique challenge in the name of vigilantism. More than 20 people have been lynched or beaten to death in last two months by mobs across the country acting as vigilantes protecting children from abductors and cows from smugglers. The mob takes the role of the police, the judge and the executioner that locates the target, finds him/her guilty and sentences it to death immediately.
It took a Supreme Court judgment to state the obvious to our democratically elected government that it is their duty to ensure the safety of the citizens, to make laws, curb the crimes, arrest the criminals and protect the innocents. In a writ petition filed by Congress leader Tehseen Poonawalla and Mahatama Gandhi’s great grandson Tushar Gandhi, the Supreme Court said that in times of chaos and anarchy, the State has to act positively and responsibly to safeguard and secure the constitution promises to its citizens.
What it all boils down to is the lackadaisical attitude of the Government of India for not performing its duty of cracking down on lynch mobs and protecting the innocents. This is what the Supreme Court bench comprising CJI Dipak Misra, Justice A.M. Khanwilkar and Justice D.Y. Chandrachud told the Government when it stated that the horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be permitted to inundate the law of the land. Earnest action and concrete steps have to be taken to protect the citizens from the recurrent pattern of violence which cannot be allowed to become “the new normal”.
There is no specific law in the Indian Penal Code for mob violence. Nor there is any law that punishes the officers of law who become mute spectators to the mob justice. On the top of all this, we have our “democratically elected representative of people” Union Minister Jayant Sinha garlanding the convicts of mob lynching calling it “honouring the process of law”.
Whom Jayant Sinha garlanded are not under trials, whose guilt is under suspicion but those who have been found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment through a full-fledged trial by the court of law. What is more frightening is that the garlanding of the convicts does not come as shock to many for they have seen such acts by the executive and legislative in the past. They have seen lynch accused draped in tricolour. They have seen Union Ministers attending their funerals. They have seen police being mute spectators to acts of mob justice.
All this sends out a subtle message that the perpetrators have the license to kill. The mob dares to defy the law, for they are backed by majority sentiment that legitimizes the use of violence to eliminate what is impure or incorrect in their subjective notions.
The Supreme Court came out strongly on the government for its inaction but in the battle between the rule of law and subjective belief system, when elected representatives openly bats for the former with tacit encouragement, any directives by the judiciary however strong worded and well-intentioned, cannot remedy the situation much.