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Judgments On The Roads: The Chilling Culture Of Vigilantism In India

11/02/2016 7:11 PM IST | Updated 22/02/2017 7:14 PM IST
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Traffic in Mumbai. With 53,000 people per square mile, Mumbai is one of the world's densest cities.

The concept of frontier justice or vigilantism is as old as human civilisation itself. The mob becoming judge, jury and executioner is a phenomenon with a long and tragic past and no part of the globe can claim to be entirely untouched by it. Lynching had once become so rampant and pervasive in America that Mark Twain sarcastically noted it had become the "United States of Lyncherdom." According to a report by 'Equal Justice Initiative' around 4000 blacks were lynched in the American South between the end of the civil war and World War II. In Lynch-Law, the first scholarly investigation of lynching, written in 1905, author James E Cutler stated that lynching is a criminal practice which is peculiar to the United States. However, after observing an alarming rise in vigilante justice over a decade, it's clear this "peculiarity" is common in India, although the reasons are different from the United States.

One of the major reasons for a mob taking the law in its own hands flows from the people's fundamental mistrust in the State's competence in delivering justice.

On 24 January this year, as the nation geared up to celebrate the auspicious day of adoption of its own Constitution, a maniacal mob was involved in lynching its very Constitutional values and sanctity. This day, a young man accused of robbing and stabbing a truck driver was tied to an electric pole and beaten to death in the national capital.

The precedents in the recent past are almost too many to count.

On 20 January, a furious mob chopped off a hand of a bank robber in the capital city of Bihar, Patna.

On 6 January, a young man was beaten to death in Delhi by a frenzied crowd who mistook him for an apple thief.

On 28 September last year a mob of religious fanatics lynched a man to death in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, because they believed he had eaten beef. A month before this gruesome incident, three suspected cattle thieves were beaten to death again in Dadri.

In March 2015, a crowd of about 8000 people barged into the Central Jail of Dimapur, dragged out a man suspected of committing rape and beat him to death.

In another instance of jungle justice a frenzied crowd in Kaliabazar village of West Bengal, mercilessly beat a man to death accused of raping and hanging a seven-year-old girl.

In July 2015 a serial rapist killer was attacked in court premises.

In May 2015, an angry mob lynched a man for allegedly beheading a five-year-old child.

The State must ensure that everyone is equal before law and that each and every offender shall be brought to justice.

In October 2014, a lynch mob chopped off the genitals of a man who was caught trying to rape a teenage girl in Ganganagar town of Rajasthan.

According to the statistics available on the official website of the National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB), riotous mobs caused maximum injuries (41.7%) to the police personnel in the country in the year 2014. These instances of jungle justice are only the tip of the iceberg given that so many crimes in this country go unreported.

This prevalence of vigilante justice indicates an alarming state of affairs for our democracy, given that it is in direct violation of the quintessential spirit of rule of law. In order to bring these ugly episodes to a halt, we need to seriously examine why they take place.

One of the major reasons for a mob taking the law in its own hands flows from the people's fundamental mistrust in the State's competence in delivering justice. The widespread corruption in law enforcement agencies, unconscionable delays in the disposal of cases by the judiciary and the unfair advantages of the rich and dominant in the justice delivery system contribute to the people's complete loss of trust in the system.

It is true that a nation can't be run on emotionally driven mob's idea of justice but it is equally true that a violent mob doesn't understand the principle ofAudi Alteram Partem. Therefore, the bigger responsibility lies on the State's machinery to rebuild trust in its citizenry. It must ensure that everyone is equal before law and that each and every offender shall be brought to justice. If the status quo doesn't change, then jungle justice will continue to rule in our cities and villages.

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