Lynching–mob violence is a new curse with which India- the largest democracy, appears to have caught with since past few years and the disease is refusing to die despite being criticized by one and all including the honorable Prime Minister and the Top Court of the Country.
Lynching in Cambridge dictionary is defined as “the act of killing someone without a legal trial”. In Wikipedia – lynching is defined as “a premeditated extra- judicial killing via group”. In Vocabulary.com – lynching is defined as “an unlawful murder by an angry mob of people”. In other words, lynching amounts to taking of law in hands by an angry lot of people, which for whatever reason is illegal and impermissible in law. This menace was virtually non-existant till recent times, but for the past few years, it has become a common feature – a big blot on the face of a country driven by the rule of law. The Attorney General of India in 2017 made a statement at the United Nations that, “We (India) believe in peace, non-violence and upholding of human dignity.”
The Honourable Supreme Court while dealing with the issue of mob violence- lynching in a Public Interest Litigation filed by a social activist Tahseen S. Poonawalla [2018(9) SCC 501] observed that lynching is an affront to the rule of law and to the exalted values of the Constitution itself which cannot be allowed to become the order of the day. Honourable Justice Dipak Mishra, the then Hon’ble Chief Justice of India, speaking for a 3 judges bench further observed that, “These extra-judicial attempts under the guise of protectors of the law have to be nipped in the bud; lest it would lead to rise of anarchy which would plague and corrode the nation like an epidemic.” The Hon’ble Supreme Court further held that the extra-judicial elements and non-state actors cannot be allowed to take the place of law or the law enforcing agency. The court further said that lynching and mob-violence are creeping threats that may gradually take the shape of a Typhon-like monster. The court said that the State has the primary responsibility to foster a secular pluralistic and multi-culturalistic social order. The state has a positive obligation to protect the fundamental rights and freedom of all the individuals irrespective of race, class, caste, religion. The court thus framed guidelines for preventive, remedial as well as punitive measures to be taken to ensure implementation of law at every stage.
The Honourable Supreme Court while dealing with the issue of mob violence- lynching in a Public Interest Litigation filed by a social activist Tahseen S. Poonawalla [2018(9) SCC 501] observed that lynching is an affront to the rule of law.
These guidelines include designation of senior police officer as Nodal officer in each district, identification of district /area(s) where instances of mob violence have taken place, issuance of advisories/ directives of the states, conducting regular review meetings, sensitization of law enforcement agencies, immediate action to be taken in case such incident has taken place including registration of cases, fast track trial etc. etc. The most important operative part of this judgment is punitive measures wherein the Court has held that if a police officer is found to have failed to prevent or to investigate or to facilitate expeditious trial in such cases it would be considered as an act of deliberate negligence and misconduct for which appropriate action shall be taken against such police officer which includes departmental action as well. It is important to note that this judgment came on 17.07.2018, following which even the Central Government issued the requisite guidelines and formed two High-Level Committees. But all this seem to have brought no difference to the ground reality. As we have witnessed in so many cases, including that of Section 66-A of the IT Act 2000, guidelines issued by the Apex court remains paper tiger till they are decided to be implemented in letter and spirit by the Executive.
It is painful to notice that so far 96 people (as per article of the Quint) have been killed since 2015 across India. The incidences of mob violence and lynching as recorded by the Quint in its article, “Lynchistan: Mob lynching cases across India,” are 96 (lynching) and 82 (mob violence). A bare glance at the details of each victim given in the Quint Article, shows that as many as 30 persons have been killed (Lynched) after the judgment of this Hon’ble Court (17.07.2018) till date of this Article including the latest case of Tabrez Ansari of Jharkhand (18 th June 2019) and of Manjhi Jetha Solanki of Gujarat (19 th June 2019); and as many as 44 people have been assaulted in mob-violence after the judgment of the Supreme Court till recently. A bare look at the details also shows that the menace of mob violence is not confined to any particular area(s) of the country but it is spread all over like a malignant tumor.
There should by large-scale publicity on all mediums of public information of the directions of the Top Court and action taken by the government.
The court has done its job. It has taken note of the menace, reminded the executive of its role and laid down preventive as well as remedial measures to be adopted to address and readdress the disease which is staring at the face of the Rule of law and the exalted values of the Constitution of the most celebrated democratic country. It is high time that the executive acts upon and ensures that ‘Not Any More’ i.e., not even a single mob violence incident takes place any further. Had the judgment of the Hon’ble Supreme Court in the Tehseen S. Poonawalla matter taken serious note of by the Central and the State governments, even if not all but only the punitive measures portion of the judgment which directs appropriate action to be taken including departmental action against the police officer(s) who fail to comply with the directions of the Court in order to prevent any crime of mob violence/lynching, then the situation could have been salvaged. Better late than never.
The Governments (Central as well as States) must take immediate measures to implement directions of the Apex Court in Tehseen S. Poonawalla case, first and foremost in respect to the police officers who failed to act upon as per the mandate of the judgment. There should by large-scale publicity on all mediums of public information of the directions of the Top Court and action taken by the government. The Governments should also involve public figures of high repute in various public interest advertisements or jingles to spread the message in public at large to live with peace and harmony with the feelings of brotherhood amongst each other irrespective of race, caste, creed and religion with the motto of “LIVE AND LET LIVE”.
Shobha Gupta is a practicing lawyer in the SC for the past 24 years. Panel lawyer of NHRC since 2002, she has done several public interest litigations and is the lawyer for the Gujarat communal riot victim Bilkis Bano, fighting her case pro bono for 17 years. The views expressed are the authors own.