Representative Image Only

The legal void impairing India’s stance against mob-lynching is an affront to human rights

The surge in mob-lynching cases in India represents the failure of the State to curb mob-justice and effectuate proper dispensation of justice.

IN the latest development in the Palghar mob-lynching case, the Supreme Court on March 29 allowed for a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the matter.

A plea seeking a CBI enquiry in the Palghar mob-lynching was listed on March 20, wherein the Supreme Court agreed to hear the plea after it was apprised that the Maharashtra government had agreed for a CBI enquiry into the matter.

The case concerns the brutal death of three men by a group of local people in Maharashtra’s Palghar district. The mob supposedly lynched the deceased in contravention of the nationwide COVID-induced lockdown.

This is by no means an isolated occurrence of mob-lynching in India. There have been several lynching incidents arising from social ostracism, casteism, social media rumours and cow vigilantism since 2014. The 2015 Dadri incident, the 2016 Jharkhand mob-lynching, the killing of dairy farmer Pehlu Khan in Alwar in 2017 and the lynching of Tabrez Ansari in 2019 are a few among the numerous lynching incidents that have caught national attention.

Also read: Lynch Nation draws up a matrix of lives and livelihoods mutilated by cow vigilantism

Analysis of publicly available data shows that Muslims were the target of 51 percent of mob violence centring on cow vigilantism between 2010 and 2017. Of the 28 persons killed in 63 incidents of cow vigilantism in this period, 24 (or 86 percent) were Muslims. More than half (52 percent) of these attacks were triggered by rumours. These attacks include mob violence, attacks by vigilantes, murder, harassment and assault; and the victims primarily belong to minorities and the socially backward classes and castes.

The Supreme Court, in the case of Tehseen S. Poonawalla versus Union of India (2018), condemned the alarming rise in mob-lynching cases and made the critical remark that “rising intolerance and growing polarisation expressed through a spate of incidents of mob violence cannot be permitted to become the normal way of life or the normal state of law and order in the country.”

In the aforesaid judgement, the Supreme Court issued extensive guidelines to tackle the issue of lynching. The preventive measures envisage a reinforced police infrastructure from district to state level. On the occurrence of such an incident, the victim shall be entitled to compensation from the state government and an expeditious trial. Besides, convicts must undergo the maximum sentence to deter commission of such offences in future. On the other hand, failure to comply with the guidelines would result in departmental action against the district administration on the grounds of negligence or misconduct.

The Supreme Court further recommended to the Parliament to create a separate legal offence for lynching and provide for appropriate punishment to prevent the recurrence of the crime. But the absence of a national legislation has created a void in the legal framework to effectively combat mob-lynching. States like Manipur, West Bengal and Rajasthan have introduced anti-lynching bills which are yet to obtain the assent of the President to become enforceable. A draft bill by the Uttar Pradesh State Law Commission has still not been voted upon by the state legislature. After the Protection from Lynching Act, 2017, a private member bill introduced in the Rajya Sabha failed to get approval, no further attempts have been made to design a legislation against lynching.

Also read: One year since the SC’s judgment, lynchings continue to “corrode the nation”

Furthermore, no official data on incidents of lynching is present with the National Crime Records Bureau despite the ominous increase in cases. This demonstrates the reluctance of the State to recognise the pattern of such crimes. Although lynching is punishable under various penal provisions, a separate offence would ensure stricter implementation of the law, and the data under this head would facilitate in efficacious tackling of the crime.

The Union government has failed to comply with its international human rights obligations. The responsibility of India to protect such victims emanates from Article 27 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which India is a signatory.

Undoubtedly, the surge in mob-lynching cases in India represents a failure of the State to curb mob justice and effectuate proper dispensation of justice. These non-judicial killings are against Article 21 (right to life and liberty) of the Constitution, and a serious breach of several international obligations and every commitment to human rights.


The Leaflet