Tukoji R Pandit
The Supreme Court of India has asked Parliament to enact a law to deal strictly with the ‘horrendous’ crimes committed by various vigilante groups—mostly related to the holy cow. The court has obviously expressed its displeasure against our law makers in no uncertain terms for their failure to protect human lives but there was something that was perhaps more serious in the court’s observation. It was the expression of absolute shock at the silence—indifference—of the civil society over the rise of mob lynching in the name of certain specific crimes like cow protection and, lately, child lifting.
Statistics published or quoted in the media say that there has been an ‘unprecedented’ jump in the cow vigilante violence since 2014. Human rights organisations say that there has been an alarming rise of ‘nationalism’ in India since 2015 as a result of which anyone holding a different view can be dubbed ‘anti-national’ and be liable to face all kinds of danger. In September last year, the Supreme Court had ruled that each district in the country should appoint a nodal police officer to take action against cow vigilantism.
One does not know if it has been followed. Even if it has been, the situation does not appear to have changed for the better. It has been reported that the cow vigilantes have found their avocation quite lucrative: they demand money to allow traders and meat transporters to continue with their business. One report had disclosed that in one state these extortionist masquerading as protectors of the cow demand Rs 200 per cow before trucks are allowed to continue their journey unharmed.
It has been reported that cow vigilante groups have sprouted almost all over India. Delhi and the national capital region are said to have about 200 such groups ready for ‘action’, mostly on highways, with suitable arms. They have no fear of the police because they either do not respond quickly to calls for help from men under attack from vigilantes or openly support the marauding crowds.
What should worry the civil society is not just the shame the court’s comments bring but also the fact that it gives strength to a government that appears to be unwilling to deal seriously with the ‘horrendous acts of mob lynching’. But with all due respect to the courts might one ask if law alone can curb ‘horrendous’ crimes? Framing a new set of rules seems like an easy way out when cornered with a situation where brutal murder and unspeakable crimes are being committed brazenly.
Six years ago almost the whole of India had reacted in horror and disbelief when a 23-year-old woman, travelling in a bus with a male companion, was not only raped but treated in the most inhuman way possible by the bus crew. She survived her ordeal but succumbed nearly a fortnight later in a Singapore hospital where she was flown by the government.
Following relentless public outcry, backed by Opposition parties, particularly the present ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, which was then in the Opposition, the government hurried through amendment to laws which were supposed to deter sexual crimes against women. The demand for making more stringent laws was indeed deafening.
The vocal power and the vociferous expression of horror witnessed then has not been seen since although the degree of ‘horrendous’ crimes has, instead of abating, shot up significantly with victims confined to not just women preyed upon by the lust of the depraved but also members of certain communities whose suffering was on account of their eating habits, religious beliefs and avocation which some sections allegedly find objectionable.
How will another set of laws or making the present ones more punishing bring the desired results? There is a significant factor now that makes it doubtful that the ghastly crimes the court had spoken about will come down, much less be eliminated. The kind of crimes that the court had in mind is being committed by groups who have an obvious connection with the ruling dispensation.
To be honest and as the court also observed, it appears that crimes like violent vigilantism and lynching by mobs no longer face social opprobrium. On the contrary, often the perpetrators have been hailed as heroes, both by their supporters and men and women in power—with garlands and sweets. In some cases an odd minister or legislator of the ruling party has paid tributes to the ‘martyrs’ who were the perpetrators of crime.
Union home minister, Rajnath Singh, thinks he had done his bit by saying what everyone knows: law and order is a state subject and it is for the states to make the laws necessary to end the menace. This way he has virtually disowned any responsibility for doing anything to stop the blood thirsty crowds lynching people merely on the basis of suspicion or fake news circulated on the social media by the bigoted and fanatics.
Barring a handful, all the states in India today are governed either directly or in alliance by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Will the states bring in laws that will punish their own followers or the people who ardently subscribe to the ‘agenda’ of the ruling party and its ‘family’? More importantly, even if the laws are made more harsh what can guarantee their application and honest prosecution?
One of the first things the chief minister of UP, Yogi Adityanath did on assuming office was to have all cases against him and his followers withdrawn. Well, none of the cases related to mob-lynching but they included charges like rioting, inciting violence and hatred some which ended in death of innocents. The plea for the withdrawal was that the cases were ‘politically motivated’.
Very recently when a union minister garlanded those being tried on serious charges, including murder, he justified his action by saying that the charges were yet to be proved conclusively. He had virtually refused to see that by publicly backing alleged criminals he was signalling that the whole government was with them. That impression was reinforced when another leader of the ruling party announced that he would foot the bill of the trial of the accused.
It has been shocking to see the police registering cases against victims if they belong to the ‘other’ community or their families instead of those accused of attacking and killing them. No matter how strong the law if the police show this kind of unabashed prejudice all sections of society will not feel secure and live in constant fear. Syndicate Features