Lynching in India is not confined to mere acts of violence by cow vigilantes. Sometimes, wild rumours infuriate the people and trigger mob violence against the hapless victims. In the past, a number of gory incidents had taken place, with the suspicion that the victims were child-lifters. The Prime Minister has given a stirring call for not only ensuring development but winning the confidence of all sections of the community. This message has to be followed in practice, and the miscreants must never enjoy a sense of immunity

There are reports of lynching in different parts of the country. These are conveying a grim message of dismal law enforcement and failure of the police to act quickly and firmly to bring the cuplrits to book. It is also a fact that the perpetrators of the crime are emboldened by the acquiescence of the law-enforcement authorities. After the recent lynching in Jharkhand, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sternly condemned the killings and condemned the offenders. He has denounced mob mentality and emphasised the need to ensure the safety of all citizens in a democratic order. It is fervently to be hoped that his voice of sanity will be heeded and stringent action taken against the killers.

Lynching is not a recent phenomenon. It has been spiralling over the past few years. According to a Reuters report, a total of 63 cow vigilante attacks occurred in India between 2010 and 2017, and attacks, 28 people (24 of them Muslims) were killed and 124 injured. In very few cases have the offenders been convicted. In Jharkhand itself, according to one report, 18 persons have reportedly been killed since 2016 by the lynch mob. There have been very few convictions, and here also, in majority of the cases, the victims were Muslims. Regrettably, in Jharkhand, some of the hate-mongers, who were released on bail, were honoured by some senior BJP leaders including a former Union Minister.

Lynchings, or similar acts of violence, take place in other societies as well. In America, in the early decades of the twentieth century, there were many instances of lynching of Afro Asians by irate white mobs who were ostensibly trying to protect the honour of white women. American vigilantes called themselves “regulators” as they felt that they were trying to regulate the society as the situation was getting out of control. Lynching in India is not confined to mere acts of violence by cow vigilantes. Sometimes, wild rumours infuriate the people and trigger mob violence against the hapless victims. In the past, a number of gory incidents had taken place, with the suspicion that the victims were childlifters. In a case in Maharashtra’s Dhule district, five people were lynched by a violent mob on the suspicion that they were members of a gang of child-lifters. This happened because rumours were afloat that gangs of childlifters were on the prowl. Even two policemen, who tried to save the victims, were injured.

In another episode, an innocent man from Odisha a was also beaten up and severely injured in Vadodara as he was suspected to be a child-lifter. Whenever such incidents take place, a thorough probe by the Criminal Investigation Department of the police is necessary to ascertain how such rumours originated, the circumstances that fuelled such rumours, and who were responsible for spreading them and inciting mob violence. Was it a sudden unpremeditated act of violence, or planed and designed?

Members of the lynch mob are normally young poverty stricken people, bristling with anger and driven by a sense of retributive justice. They become demoniacal in their expression of anger and violence. In an incident in Hapur in UP, a frenzied mob lynched a man and seriously injured his friend. A video that has surfaced shows the injured man bleeding profusely and writhing in pain, lying on the ground and asking for water. The cheering crowd that had gathered around him, did not offer him any water. This sort of fiendish insensitivity and sadistic pleasure is a matter of serious sociological concern. It reveals the deadening of the collective conscience. This is an ominous trend. Similarly, a video has surfaced after the Jharkhand incident showing that the mob tied the victim Ansari to a post, beat him up and directed him to shout Jai Shri Ram.

The problem has another dimension of the problem. While serving in the National Human Rights Commission, I have supervised cases where the police, with a view to getting rid of notorious criminals, incited mobs to kill them. This is a short-cut Machiavellian trick by the police. But because of the malfunctioning of the criminal justice system and inordinate delay in the punishment of criminals, the people also feel happy with this informal and bizarre form of social control. However, this is a wrong ploy and generates contempt for the law and the criminal justice system.

To curb lynchings, false and unfounded rumours should not be allowed to circulate. The police and district administrations have to ensure that they are denied promptly. The Ministry of Electronics & Information Technology has now issued a warning to the WhatsApp over the abuse of its platform, and directed that thespread of such fake messages should be contained through information technology management. They will have to devise ways and means to ensure that the platform is not abused or misused by the merchants of hate and violence.

Lynchings signify a breakdown of the law-enforcement system. But the fact that such mortal violence is mainly targeted against Muslims, make them sinister, with diabolical repercussions. Such incidents can infuriate and alienate large sections of the community, which represents nearly one-fifth of the country’s population. Such incidents can seriously impede the country’s progress. Last year, during the Eid celebration, some Muslim groups expressed their anger and frustration by wearing black bands. This year also, protesting against the increasing cases of mob lynching targeting the Muslims, a large number of Muslims took out a rally under the banner of Muslims Muttahida Council (MMC). In a memorandum to the President, the protesters decried mob lynching as an organized effort to create fear psychosis among the Muslims in the country. These are the wake-up calls for the government, both at the Centre and in the states.

The Prime Minister has given a stirring call for not only ensuring development but winning the confidence of all sections of the community. This message has to be followed in practice, and the miscreants must never enjoy a sense of immunity. This is the acid test for good and harmonious governance. This will need resolute and robust law enforcement by the police. This will be possible and practicable if the political leadership remains firm and steadfast. The new government under Modi will have to live down the fear of majoritarianism for safeguarding the rights of all citizens, and dispel doubts and concerns of the minorities.