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Lynching in simple terms can be understood as the killing of a person by a group of persons. Mob lynching essentially signifies extra-judicial, that is, illegal killing. Such killings are mostly done out of group hatred. Unfortunately, such incidents have been growing in frequency in the recent past. Mob killing of Tabrez Ansari in Jharkhand is a shocking example.
Social psyche around mob lynching seems have changed over the years. Media reports suggest a steep increase in mob lynching post 2014. Before that, such incidents were minimal and sparse. For instance, between 2003 and 2009, only 22 such cases were reported. While between 2014 and 2019, 39 cases have been reported.
The most unfortunate fact is that all of these lynching incidents have a communal or casteist angle. Tabrez was bashed brutally by miscreants who were compelling him to chant slogans of ‘Jai Shree Ram’ and ‘Jai Hanuman’. And just yesterday (on 7th July), three Dalit boys were publicly stripped and thrashed in U.P. over theft bid.
What is the social impact of such incidents?
Incidents like these trigger a fear psychosis among the already depressed sections of society. The sheer number of cases reported instils a feeling of dismay and terror in the minds of religious minorities and the so called ‘lower’ castes. No doubt, this further divides people on the lines of caste and religion.
In order to comprehend the frame of mind, we should put ourselves in the shoes of those who are facing constant bashing from the people within our society. The alarming rate at which such incidents are rising paints a ghastly picture, portraying mob lynching as a new form of cruel justice delivery.
The guilt-free pass.
Another important aspect of such incidents is the difficulty in bringing the miscreants to justice. The golden rule of criminal justice is that an accused is presumed to be not guilty, unless proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt.
The biggest cause of concern revolves around the question that how can the accused be identified in group of hundreds? Miscreants have exploited this loophole time and again. People assume that when they commit a crime in large groups, they are not guilty individually.
It will be not wrong to say that mob lynching has become a tool to commit crime without being held accountable for one’s action. The implied acceptance of such horrendous crimes is a cause of concern for society at large. It sends out a very dangerous message.
What is the legal angle of mob lynching?
Article 21 of the constitution provides right to life and personal liberty as a fundamental right. Mob lynching is in direct contradiction of this right. Even if a person is guilty, his life can only be taken by the state after following the due process of law. Mob justice is an antithesis to the rule of law.
When a crime is committed by mob, it becomes very difficult to determine which persons are actually guilty. Sections 34 and 120B of the IPC come closest to covering mob crimes. These sections provide for crimes including ‘common intention’ and ‘criminal conspiracy’ respectively.
However, these sections do not properly cover mob crimes. Because firstly, ‘common intention’ might not be present in the mob. It is possible that only some persons among the group might have intended to kill the victim. Separating them is the tricky part.
Secondly, conspiracy requires prior planning of a crime, which is not the case in mob lynching which is done at the spur of the moment. Therefore, we can see that identifying the real culprits in a mob crime is quite complicated.
What can be the way out of this legal hurdle?
There is a definite need to recognize mob lynching as a separate crime in IPC, for which amendment should be made in it. Every member of a mob should be arrested in such a case. This should be followed by investigation. Such a law should be first brought about as an ordinance. It should be made a law depending on its effectiveness.
However, such a law needs to have very cautious language because it can be easily misused by police to arrest a lot of people at once. It might become another draconian law like AFSPA. It should be kept in mind that in a mob, there are a lot of people, and not all are necessarily guilty. Therefore, a structured mechanism to establish guilt is needed.
Mob lynching is a threat to communal harmony. In a country as diverse as India, it can lead to drastic consequences. Such incidents trigger fear psychosis among depressed sections. There is an urgent need to check such mob crimes.
The current provisions of law are not sufficient to deal with this menace. A new law or a new section in IPC is required to deal with mob lynching. Proper mechanism needs to be laid down to determine guilt in mob crimes.