It is heartening that the Supreme Court has come down heavily on incidents of lynching by misguided mobs and has asked Parliament to come up with a special law to deter such crimes.
Saying that such horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be allowed to “inundate the law of the land,” and become the ‘new normal’, a three-judge bench of the apex court led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra said a new law would instil a new sense of fear in those involved in such kind of activities.
However, adding to the plethora of laws may not prove to be an adequate deterrent when existing laws are being routinely flouted. Yet, the intent of the apex court’s thinking is praiseworthy.
What actually ails the system is the ineffective policing and bad prosecution
What actually ails the system is not the absence of laws but ineffective policing and bad prosecution. Sadly, there is an appalling lack of political will to ensure that there is a free, fair and impartial investigation. Often, the perpetrators of such heinous acts are hand-in-glove with politicians with the result that the police are not sincere about investigating the role of the perpetrators and have a vested interest in looking the other way.
It is not the perpetrators alone that need to be brought to book. More often than not, the investigators too need to be deterred from taking such a cavalier attitude to defiance of law and colluding with the perpetrators by common design.
When mob lynching first gained traction they were attributed to ultra-Hindus being outraged by cow slaughter and cow-meat eating by Muslims. Now, they have taken other shapes, the most prevalent being rumours of child-lifting by unscrupulous elements carried by and fanned by social media.
Directing the Centre and states to take preventive, punitive and remedial measures to stop lynching incidents, the apex court said, “Crime knows no religion and neither the perpetrator nor the victim can be viewed through the lens of race, caste, class or religion.” The court sought compliance reports from the Centre and states in four weeks.
The apex court laid down that the state governments shall designate a senior police officer in each district for taking measures to prevent incidents of mob violence and lynching. These governments shall immediately identify districts, sub-divisions and villages where instances of lynching and mob violence have been reported in the recent past.
The cold reality
The cold reality is that such directives more often than not remain only on paper given the lack of sensitisation of the police force and the absence of an effective enforcement mechanism.
The court has enjoined upon every police officer to cause a mob to disperse, which, in his opinion, has a tendency to cause violence in the disguise of vigilantism or otherwise.
Considering that social media has become a much-misused platform, the court has sought to curb and stop the dissemination of irresponsible and explosive messages, videos and other material on various social media platforms. It wants FIRs to be registered under relevant provisions of law against persons who disseminate such messages.
Another recommendation of the court is for state governments to prepare a lynching/mob violence victim compensation scheme.
Cases of lynching and mob violence shall be specifically tried by designated court/fast track courts earmarked for that purpose in each district. The trial shall preferably be concluded within six months.
Criminal justice system needs a shot in the arm
There can be little doubt that the criminal justice system needs a shot in the arm.
Experience has shown that the backlog of cases per se is so overwhelming that special courts do not necessarily lead to speedy justice.
The court has also laid down that to set a stern example in cases of mob violence and lynching, the trial court must ordinarily award maximum sentence upon conviction of the accused person. If it is found that a police officer or an officer of the district administration has failed to fulfil his duty, it will be considered as an act of deliberate negligence.
While these are useful recommendations, it is a moot point whether they are practical in the context of the current milieu and the climate of lack of accountability in various spheres.