Lynching: horrendous act of mobocracy

…Swami Agnivesh episode marks the new low

Lynching was labelled as “horrendous act of mobocracy” in Tuesday’s Supreme Court ruling. However, even before the ink had dried on the ruling, Swami Agnivesh was attacked in Jharkhand by a mob, allegedly of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM) activists, affiliated to BJP. From cow-vigilantes lynching Muslim suspected of eating beef to Dalits engaged in the beef-trade and now to Swami Agnivesh supporting the softer face of Hinduism, India has come a long way.  The lynching trend started with BJP gaining power in the federal Indian government and in vast swathes of cow belt. The hold over federal and many state governments emboldened front organizations of Hindutva to launch a frontal attack on marginalized communities. It has resulted in killings, grievous injuries too, to many victims of vigilante terror. The fear psychosis in minorities is deepening by the day.

Judicial intervention over the on-going week marks the inability of the political executive in the federal government and state governments to check the menace.  Supreme Court three member bench headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra passed stringent comments, urging the parliament to enact a separate law to deal with mob lynching so that “fear of law and veneration for the command of law constitute the foundation of a civilized society”. The 45 page verdict of the Apex Court further read, “The horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be permitted to inundate the law of the land. Earnest action and concrete steps have to be taken to protect the citizens from the recurrent pattern of violence, which cannot be allowed to become the new normal”

The judicial note that it cannot be allowed to become “the new normal” is an admission of sorts that the political executive has allowed to become “the new normal” by not only failing to act, but by being passive accomplices.  Union Minister—Jayant Sinha felicitated eight men convicted in the lynching to death of Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh town of Jharkhand on June, the 29th 2017. 12 people were convicted by a fast track court. Subsequently, 8 persons were released on bail by Jharkhand High Court citing ‘’lack of evidence of specific assault.’’ On July, the 7th Jayant Sinha welcomed the convicts with garlands and sweets. Apart from others, the gruesome act of the Union Minister was condemned by his father, Yashwant Sinha—former minister of finance and external affairs. Union ministers seemingly endorsing acts of lynching help make it the “new normal’’ pointedly referred to by the Apex Court. 

In the same state—Jharkhand, the lynching that 80 year old Swami Agnivesh had to face was shamelessly labelled by CP Singh—urban development minister, as self-engineered to gain publicity. The minister called Swami ‘’A Fraud’’ wanting more money. CP Singh is a minister in the same government that has ordered an enquiry in the Swami lynching episode, as such he was pre-judging the issue still under investigation. In a situation, where minister at the level of federal government and in the states take a stance that favours the brigades let loose by extremist forces, it is bound to assume the shape of the ‘’new normal.’’ And, it becomes doubtful whether judicial intervention would lead to positive results. In fact, even before the Supreme Court hearing over the on-going week, the courts were moved and the lynching was commented upon adversely.

It was last year in September that the Apex Court asked all the states to take stern measures to stop violence in the name of cow protection. The court directive implied appointment of senior police officers as nodal officers in every district within a week in order to check cow vigilantes from taking "law unto themselves.’’ The court had gone as far as to seek response from Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh governments. Cow vigilantism however continued in one form or another, evidence that the grave issue has gone beyond the realms of effective judicial intervention. Earlier in July, in fact on July 3, three member bench of Supreme Court reserved its verdict on pleas to initiate contempt against states that failed to take measures to combat cow vigilantism. The states named were the ones, where maximum number of cases has been recorded, namely Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. Tushar Gandhi—Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson pleaded that contempt proceedings must be initiated against these states, for failure to comply with court’s orders. In the present instance however, over the week, it has been reported that Apex Court has directed the states to file a compliance report within four weeks. The next hearing is slated for August, the 20th.  

The judicial directive in the present instance seems to be an inclusive of preventive, remedial and punitive measures. This includes asking the state governments to prevent dissemination of “irresponsible and explosive” messages, videos and other material across social media platforms and work in coordination to prevent lynching. It is also implied that penal consequences for lynching may be made known by the Centre and state governments by broadcasting across all media platforms. It is to be seen whether preventive measures suggested, remedies pointed out and the warnings of punitive measures is going to affect what certain quarters are bent upon making out the ‘’new normal’’. Judicial intervention might not be enough, unless it is augmented by political will of the powers that be. Ground factors suggest that the needed will is lacking, hence the question mark over judicial intervention.  

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]