Mobocracy – An Urgent Need for Action

Bar and Bench News/ 28 July 2018 
By Professor  Vishavjeet Chaudhary 

The last few incidents of lynching by mobs of people have sent shockwaves around the world. The situation is dreadfully distressing as it is chilling. According to some reports, this year alone has seen more than 25 incidents of mob lynching across India.

In a Public Interest Litigation filed in the Supreme Court, the Court has laid down guidelines. Some of them include specialised ‘Nodal officers’ to ensure maintenance of law order. Additional surveillance of areas identified as sensitive has been directed. The Government is also mandated to announce on radios and other platforms that any mob violence will invite serious penal consequences.

The court has also directed the implementation of a compensation for the victims and their next of kin. The guidelines have also demanded data of lynching incidents in the past few years that should be made available within 3 weeks. Additionally, the Supreme Court has demanded that the Parliament draft new legislation to prevent lynching incidents.

‘Mobocracy’ cannot be the norm. Whilst a new law is certainly required, perhaps more importantly we need to look at the problem from multiple perspectives.

One reason behind rising incidents of citizens taking the law into their hands is perhaps the lack of repercussions upon being held guilty. This perception, regardless of the reasons for attacking another citizen, needs to be sternly dealt with. The mob responsible for such incidents should, under no circumstances, be immune from political, social and legal consequences that are deserved by criminals.

Second, it is a dire lack of maintenance of law and order. Ironically, mobs that attack often justify their acts by using the excuse that they did so as the perpetrators had or were going to break the law.

Instances of such justifications include the lynching of people who were accused of illegal smuggling of cattle and purported beliefs of the deceased being kidnappers. This is utterly and unequivocally unacceptable.

The entire justice system works on the premise that the courts determine guilt before punishment. This mentality thus needs to be changed completely. Social and political payers have to come together to ensure that. Else, the vicious circle of breaking the law carries on.

When mobs take control, it is an inexcusable state failure. The prime and foremost job of the state machinery is to ensure the protection of her citizens. If this cannot be guaranteed, the very values upon which democracies are founded are under extreme threat. No amount of economic and social development can make up for the damages fabric that this lawlessness causes.

Nonetheless, the state can’t prevent all incidents of such violence- with its limited resources and personnel, this is practically impossible. Thus, perhaps most importantly, it is for the civic society to come together and condemn these incidents. We also need to be responsible as well as responsive to what goes on around us.

Any law is only as good as the following it induces. The current law has certain sections in the IPC which deal with ingredients of lynching incidents- nonetheless, a law that specifically targets this menace is a welcome move.

Whilst a law is a good start, society needs to change. A new law can provide for specific and special investigatory powers as well as penal sanctions. It can also afford a more comprehensive framework of investigation, inquiry, and trial.

Nonetheless, in order for things to improve, the change has to be deeper. Civil society, as well as the state authorities, need to join hands. Our safety is at stake and so is our reputation as a civilised society.