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Palghar: A Grim Reminder Of The Need For Anti-Lynching Legislation

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In a civilised society, even one lynching is too many. But here in India, the selective outrage, the utter disregard of Supreme Court guidelines over mob lynching and the failure of law enforcement machinery has resulted in its normalisation.

On the night of April 16 2020, 70-year-old Mahant Kalpavruksha and 35-year-old Seushilgiri Maharaj, along with their driver were lynched by a mob on the accusation of child kidnapping. Videos that emerged subsequently show the police standing mutely as the crowd attacks the three. More than 100 people have been arrested in connection with the crime so far.

Lynching is a premeditated extrajudicial killing. The governing sentiments of mobs sometimes pertain to heightened paranoia about theft, kidnapping, cow-slaughter, smuggling of cattle or the religious identity of any person. From Akhlaq to Pehlu Khan’s lynching to inspector Subodh Kumar’s killing by a riotous mob, the country has witnessed high furore filled with indignation, only later to subside until the next horrendous act.

There is no space for lynch mobs in our society. This sinister social, political culture of lynching is an outcome of impunity. A perception of getting away with it gives the mob the confidence to execute such a heinous act. Moreover, little has been done by the State and law enforcement machinery to shake such confidence. Owing to the intensity and the gravity of the crime, a long debate over the need of anti-lynching legislation in India has already taken place. The primary argument of activists and lawyers advocating a distinct law over mob lynching is that it will fill a void in criminal jurisprudence. Presently, the people accused under the crime of lynching are tried under section 149(unlawful assembly), Section 147 ( rioting), section 148 ( rioting armed with deadly weapons), section 307 ( attempt to murder) and section 302( murder) of the Indian Penal Code. But these sections connoting to their different meaning can be charged varyingly and the provisions fall short of an adequate legal framework for prosecuting lynch mobs.

In a landmark judgement of Tehseen S. Poonawala v Union of India and others, the honourable Supreme Court emphasised on the need for anti-lynching legislation that can regulate and make provisions for perpetrators of the crime.
“Lynching is an affront to the rule of law and to the exalted values of the Constitution itself,” the court held.

Despite the Supreme court’s directives for preventive, remedial and punitive measures to be adopted by Central and State governments, yet only a few states, namely Manipur, Rajasthan and West Bengal have passed this indispensable legislation.

The special need to enact this separate legislation to combat the rising and an alarming number of mob lynching cases is because of the underlying reason that the crime is not only committed by the hands that kill the victim but also by the person who is a part of the mob, in short, the silent spectator. The act which will make provisions for separate punishment for the offence of lynching would then be read with other sections, such as section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code intaking both the individual and the mob. Thus, the intention is to hold every person of the lynch mob accountable, The trial would then be held for both the charges resulting in not letting the accomplice get away by misusing any provisions of law.

Mob Lynching

Any impunity through the various means of law given to those indulged in such deplorable crime must be considered as undermining the ethos of the Constitution of India.

The draft for anti-lynching law called Manav Suraksha Kanoon (MASUKA) released by National campaign against Mob lynching went from being popular to being forgotten. It not only provided definitions to the words ‘mob’ and ‘lynching’ but also made provisions for the offence to be a cognizable and non- bailable one, criminalisation of dereliction of duty by police and adequate compensation to be paid to the victim and survivors. As Sanjay Hegde, who headed the committee that prepared the draft said, “Every lynch mob that gets away from the courts is a recruiting advertisement for the next lynch mob.” Moreover, any delay in justice due to filing late FIRs and conducting dubious investigations would also be corrected.

The Palghar lynching is a fresh reminder of the compelling requirement for a stringent law that leaves no loopholes for meting justice to the victims and in sending a strong message to the perpetrators that the rule of law cannot be allowed to be blatantly misused. Any act of lynching is a direct and brutal attack on the fundamental rights of the victim which finds no place in a democratic nation like ours. The new normal cannot be allowed in any way to devour the rule of law and let the miscreant belief to bypass the rule of law to meet ends of justice. With other states proving to be laggards in passing legislation on lynching, it is imperative that the Parliament enacts a law which will be consistent across jurisdictions in the country.

“It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me and I think that’s pretty important” – Martin Luther King.

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