A number of cases of mob lynchings have been reported over the past few months triggered by rumours circulated on social media, especially on WhatsApp.
From the beginning of 2017, approximately 70 such attacks have taken place, in which 36 people lost their lives with number of those injured reaching approximately 100. In recent weeks, these incidents have apparently become a more common. Around 77% of the cases have been attributed to fake news. On July 17, the Supreme Court asked the Parliament to enact a law which accounts mob lynching as an offence. Comprehensive and accurate data is crucial for the proper implementation of the court’s orders and in the larger battle against mob lynching and violence.
Understanding ‘mob lynching’
If we go by the literal meaning, ‘Mob’ means a crowd that is prone to be involved in a violent act and ‘Lynch’ means when a crowd of people attack someone,who they believe is guilty of a crime, with an intent to kill.
Some recent cases of mob lynchings –
On July 15, in the most recent case of mob fury triggered by rumours, a 32-year-old software engineer at software giant Accenture was beaten to death and three others, including a Qatari national, critically injured in Bidar district of Karnataka. The crowd suspected them of being a group of “child lifters”.
On June 27, a 38-year-old man was thrashed on the suspicion of being a child lifter in Madhya Pradesh’s Singrauli district. Police said that the man was a resident of a nearby village and had nothing to do with child-lifting. “He makes living as a ‘Bahrupiya’ (impersonation artist),” the police officer said. He was on his way to a nearby village for a performance where he was to mimic a woman and was wearing a sari when he was attacked.
On June 26, a 40-year-old woman, identified as Shanta Devi, was lynched by a frenzied mob on the suspicion of being a child lifter in the Vadaj area of Ahmedabad, Gujarat.
On June 19, a man was lynched in Hapur district of Uttar Pradesh following rumours of cow slaughter. Videos surfaced on social media purportedly showing a mob beating up a man and forcing him to confess to having slaughtered a cow. Police initially denied the cow slaughter angle in the case. Police admitted that there were rumours that the incident was an outcome of cow slaughter.
No one can dispute that a major reason for the recent rise in lynchings is immunity from punishment. It can be reasonably assumed that the lynching mobs that murdered Mohammad Akhlaq in Uttar Pradesh’s Dadri, Pehlu khan in Rajasthan’s Alwar, and Hafiz Juniad in Haryana were confident of getting away with it. Their confidence reflected in the actions taken by the concerned governments in the previous incidents. Another reason for the increase in mob lynchings is spread of fake news on social media platforms by miscreants.
Are Centre and State governments accountable?
The Supreme Court held the Centre and the state governments accountable for mob violence and lynchings and asked them to take steps to curb the dissemination of irresponsible and explosive messages and videos on social media platforms which incite such incidents.
Passing a slew of directions to provide “preventive, remedial and punitive measures”, the top court asked the state governments to designate a senior police officer, not below the rank of Superintendent of Police, as nodal officer in each district taking measures to prevent incidents of mob violence and lynching.
The responsible officer shall constitute a Special Task Force so as to procure intelligence reports about the people who are likely to commit such crimes or who are involved in spreading hate speeches, provocative statements and fake news.
The court said the nodal officer should hold regular meetings, at least once a month, with the local intelligence units in the district along with all station house officers to identify the existence of the tendencies of vigilantism and mob violence.
The court said it was duty of every police officer to disperse a mob by exercising his power under Section 129 of CrPC (Dispersal of Unlawful Assembly), which has a tendency to cause violence or wreak the havoc of lynching in the disguise of vigilantism.
The court suggested that there should be seriousness in patrolling so that the anti-social elements involved in such crimes are discouraged and remain within the boundaries of law. Thus, fearing to even think of taking the law into their own hands.
It also issued punitive measures and said if a police official or an officer of the district administration has failed to comply with these directions, it shall be considered as an act of deliberate “negligence and/or misconduct” for which appropriate action must be taken.
We have seen how technology, which is considered to be a boon for mankind, is being used by some people to spread rumours and peddle fake news leading to assault innocent people.
In the recent times, instances of social media misuse has led to loss of human lives.
Experts suggest to make mandatory the WhatsApp forwards and memes containing originator details, and a “fact check this” option inserted at the user end to allow a message to be decrypted. It is also suggested that a database of ‘reported hashes’ be created, which all users could download, and which would automatically rate messages on ‘trust’.