Analysis: Bengal’s bill against mob lynching

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The West Bengal (Prevention of Lynching) Bill, 2019 was introduced on 30 August in the assembly by Mamata Banerjee and was supported by Congress and Communist Party of India. It is in anticipation of the governor’s approval. The bill emphasises on the prevention of malicious activity of mob lynching.

    According to Merriam Webster, lynch is a terminology used for an action of “to put to death (as by hanging) by mob without legal approval or permission.”

    In other words, lynching is an offensive activity where someone is murdered by extrajudicial killing by a group of people. It is an informal public execution to punish offender accused of some crime without any genuine criminal trial.

    The cause of assault by mob may depend on the grounds of religion, caste, sex, sexual orientation, or any other reason. This Bill promotes prevention of such crimes. And if there is case of mob lynching, it prescribes punishment to offenders and compensation to victims.

What is the background of this issue?

    The lower and marginalised people of society encourage the mob lynching for  various reasons like punishing for theft, homosexuality, rape, honour killing, kidnapping and abduction, cow protection and caste rivalries and alike.

Some recent incidents of mob lynching that shocked the whole nation were:

  • On September 28, 2015, a person named Mohammed Akhlaq, in Bisahra village close to Dadri, UP, was accused of stealing and slaughtering a calf for Eid. The local temple’s public gathered a mob, which then went to Akhlaq’s house. Akhlaq and his son Danish were dragged out and beaten with rods and bricks. They found leftover meat curry in his fridge as proof that they had killed a cow (Akhlaq’s family convinced them that it was goat meat). Akhlaq died from the fatal assault. Danish was severely injured and had to undergo brain surgery later. Within days, the Union minister called the lynching mishap an “accident”. In spite of the brutal nature of the crime, all the accused have got bail and are out of jail now.
  • In March 2016, two cattle traders were lynched, and their bodies were hung from a tree in Jharkhand.
  • In July 2016, four Dalit men were assaulted in Una, Gujarat for skinning dead cows and they recorded a film of the assault.
  • On June 27, 2017, a mentally ill woman was lynched in West Bengal after a 14-year old child went missing in the area and there were rumours of Bangladeshi child abductors being active in that area.
  • In June 2018, a mob in Assam beat two young men to death on suspicion of them being child lifters. 
  • May 2018 witnessed multiple mob attacks in Andhra Pradesh of Hindi-speaking people as false rumours spread that child abducting gangs from Bihar and Jharkhand were active in the state.
  • In July 2018, five men from a nomadic tribe were beaten to death in Maharashtra.
  • Two Muslim men in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad city were threatened and forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram” by unidentified people.
  • On 13 July 2019, a mob attacked a police constable who was trying to resolve a land dispute in Rajasthan’s Rajsamand district.
  • On 18 June 2019, a Muslim man identified as Tabrez Ansari was beaten up in Jharkhand for allegedly attempting to steal a motorcycle. The FIR said the mob had also forced Ansari to chant “Jai Shri Ram” and “Jai Hanuman”. He died four days later.
  • A 25-year-old man was allegedly beaten up, verbally abused, and forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram” in Diva area of Maharashtra’s Thane district on 24 June 2019.

How has recent turmoil effected the government?

    Due to a series of bloodcurdling episodes the State governments are taking initiatives to eradicate this problem.

    Manipur was the first to introduce Manipur Protection from Mob Violence Ordinance in 2018. Following Manipur; Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and now West Bengal are trying hard to enforce the law against mob lynching.

    Mamata Banerjee while speaking on the bill in the house said, “Lynching is a social evil and all of us have to come together to fight against this evil. The Supreme Court has also given directions to take action against lynching.”

What are the legal issues involved in criminalising mob lynching?

    Mamata Banerjee, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, was compelled to take a step against it because the Central government did not propose any law till date against this heinous crime.

    The bills passed by Rajasthan and West Bengal are yet to be examined by the Union Home Minister before they become a law. They will be examining this bill through three angles – legal and constitutional validity, deviation from national or central policy and third, inconsistency with central laws, if any.

    But they noticed many grave irregularities and legislative improprieties in the procedure.

    The opposition representatives found that the bill presented in House was different than the draft copy of bill which was circulated among the members of Assembly.

    According to Sujan Chakraborty, death penalty is inserted in the final bill whereas life imprisonment as the highest penalty was mentioned in the bill which was circulated, and this change was made without any notice of an amendment.

    The two bills stand different which arises confusion.

Salient features of the new bill

  1. The bill defines lynching as an act of violence by mob.
  2. The legislation prescribes the appointment of a nodal officer for periodic assessment in all districts.
  3. It also recommends efficient patrolling.
  4. An officer not below the rank of an inspector should investigate the incidents of lynching.
  5. It also grants protection for witnesses and compensation for victims only if the complaint is brought before the court within 24 hours.
  6. To criminalise such actions of mob lynching and discourage people from doing such monstrous activities.
  7. The bill aims to protect the constitutional rights of vulnerable persons.
  8. It also proposes action against those involved in assaulting and injuring a victim.
  9. To demotivate people from taking the law in their hands.
  10. In case of death of the victim, people responsible for the incident would be punished with death sentence or rigorous life imprisonment and fine up to Rs 5 lakhs. And for those who are involved in assaulting and injuring a victim, they will be imprisoned for 3 years or for a life term.
  11. The main motive behind this bill is to eradicate the concept of mob lynching. 

Critical appraisal of the bill

    Even though sovereignty lies within every individual, they do not have the freedom to access law with their own hands. The lawmakers introduce the law and the executive body implements it. People are only bound to follow them and express their criticism or problems in front of the judiciary.

    The mob lynching is as old as the human civilization. The fanatic people tend to punish the innocent accused of crime or the actual offender without any judicial trial. They kill the victim by hanging or by beating him.

    And to curb this heinous crime, West Bengal passed an anti-lynching bill. This bill directs to prevent such incidents and to punish the people involved in such activities. It also provides for protection and compensation. Effective measures are included in this bill to restrain any mob lynching in future in every possible manner by the Mamata Banerjee – led government in West Bengal.

In conclusion

    Extrajudicial killing of a person by a group of people without a criminal trial is termed as lynching. Even though the Supreme Court set the guidelines against this act, there was no proper implementation at such. After a series of similar activities, it bothered the Bengal Government and it took an initiative and introduced an anti-lynching bill. This bill is yet to be examined by the Union Home Minister. By emergence of this bill there is a hope and possibility that the problem of mob lynching will disappear soon if implemented properly and effectively.

This article is brought to you in collaboration with Rutuja Gujar from Sandip University.

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