Above: Muslims protesting against mob lynching in Ahmedabad/Photo: UNI
~By Inderjit Badhwar
We return, again, on this page, and in our cover story—and we shall do so repeatedly as and when the occasion demands—to what has become the most perilous threat to democracy, the Constitution, the Rule of Law, to humanity, to religion, to the social order—indeed to the very concept of what historian AL Basham called, “The Wonder That Was India”: the proliferation of the murderous mob culture as an instrument of state policy. A complicit, stand-by-and-watch state in mass lynchings organised to create political terror or fan religious hatred is not a state at all. It is, in effect, the most diabolical state of nature in which man walked not free and uninhibited but cowered in fear of an existence that was, in the words of Thomas Hobbes, “nasty, brutish, and short”.
The rule of the lynch mob is the very anti-thesis of law, of civilisation. I cannot for the life of me figure out why, for its glory, pomp and grandeur, the Roman Empire was called a “civilisation”. Only because it had a “democratic” Senate, built coliseums, created a framework of jurisprudence? Actually, an empire that thrived on mass slavery, whose emperors could teach modern fascist dictators a lesson or two in cruelty, which fed Christians to the lions, feasted on blood and gore as gladiators pummelled one another to shreds before deliriously cheering crowds, was the epitome of barbarianism.
India is what we like to describe as a “civilisational” land and country. At its worst, in the past, that epithet suited Bharat better than it did Rome or Greece or the Ottomans or Spain and their murderous inquisitors. Sad, but true, modern independent India was born in the worst kind of bloodshed, ethnic cleansing and forced migration the world has ever seen.
Bapu Gandhi, the father of this new nation, sensed the degeneration of the Indian ethos in the marrow of his bones. As Dr Ram Puniyani succinctly puts it, countering hate and promoting amity “became the central message of Mahatma Gandhi, who struggled to promote peace, in the highest traditions of his Hinduism. As the fake news is assuming frightening proportions and is doing serious harm to the concept of fraternity inherent in Indian nationalism, we need to retune ourselves to the core value of amity, which was the foundation of the freedom movement and is very much the part of our Constitution”.
It is to this that the Supreme Court under the leadership of Chief Justice Dipak Misra turned last week. In a scathing indictment of the spreading culture of mob lynchings, his bench said enough is enough! If you read between the lines, the message that goes out loud and clear is that the Indian state and the organs of governance have been derelict in performing their most basic duty—to protect the right to life and enforce the law. The message is implicit. After all, there are enough laws already in the books to prevent lynchings or murderous mobs from going on the rampage and also punishing the perpetrators.
The rule of the lynch mob is the very anti-thesis of law, of civilisation. I cannot for the life of me figure out why, for its glory, pomp and grandeur, the Roman Empire was called a “civilisation”. India is what we like to describe as a “civilisational” land and country.
The very fact that despite the existing remedies available to the state machinery to crack down on the lynching culture (in fact, there is a secret grudging admiration in this country for how the British extinguished the savage thuggee gangs), the apex court decided to deliver an abecedarian lecture on how to enforce the law as well as a directive to enact special legislation, was a body blow to the government for failing to perform its constitutional functions and duties to the public.
Our cover story details how the Supreme Court neatly divided its sermon to the government under preventive, punitive and remedial actions to be taken. To give the reader a flavour of the judgment, I summarise below the main points made by Chief Justice Misra which should be made must reading for anybody interested in reforming a nation going horribly offtrack from the core moral centre of its Founding Fathers:
- Parliament should create a separate offence for lynching with adequate punishment. A special law against cow vigilantism and mob lynchings would instil a sense of fear of the law. Horren-dous acts of mobocracy cannot be allowed to inundate the law of the land.
- The centre and states should take earnest action and concrete steps to protect citizens from the recurrent pattern of violence which cannot be allowed to become the new normal.
- State governments must prepare a lynching/mob violence victim compensation scheme within a month.
- Lynching cases and mob violence shall be specifically tried by designated fast track courts in each district. Upon conviction of the accused, the trial court must ordinarily award the maximum sentence as provided for various offences under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code.
- Lynching is an affront to the Rule of Law and values of the Constitution. Lynching and barbaric violence arising out of incitement and instigation cannot be allowed to become the order of the day. Such vigilantism, be it for whatever purpose or borne out of whatever cause, has the effect of undermining the legal and formal institutions of the state and altering the constitutional order.
- The State has a sacrosanct duty to protect its citizens from unruly elements and perpetrators of orchestrated vigilantism. Hate crimes as a product of intolerance, ideological dominance and prejudice ought not to be tolerated, lest it results in a reign of terror.
- The majesty of the law cannot be sullied simply because an individual or a group generates the attitude that they have been empowered by the principles set out in law to take its enforcement into their own hands and gradually become law unto themselves and punish the violator on their own assumption and the manner in which they deem fit.
- There can be no shadow of doubt that the authorities who are conferred with the responsibilities to maintain law and order have the principle obligation to see that vigilantism, be it cow vigilantism or any other vigilantism of any perception, does not take place. When any core group with some kind of idea takes the law into its own hands, it ushers in anarchy, chaos, disorder and, eventually, there is an emergence of a violent society.
- These extra-judicial attempts under the guise of the protection of the law have to be nipped in the bud, lest it lead to anarchy and lawlessness which would plague and corrode the nation like an epidemic. The tumultuous dark clouds of vigilantism have the effect of shrouding the glorious ways of democracy and justice leading to tragic breakdown of the law and transgressing all forms of civility and humanity.