ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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From Democracy to Mobocracy

In contemporary India, lawlessness and mob lynchings are replacing the rule of law.

It is disturbing to note that mob lynching in India is moving towards becoming the new “normal.” It has failed to invoke unconditional condemnation from a large section of society. On the contrary, such mob violence seems to enjoy their endorsement. The judiciary justifiably enough is fixing the primary responsibility on state governments and the respective law and order state machinery to stop such violence.

Such lynchings involve discriminatory standards in the sense that they provoke instant punishment outside the established law, particularly in cases of rape when the victim is from a dominant social and religious background. We have seen this most recently in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh where the rape of an eight-year-old girl led to demonstrations and demands for instant justice by the majority Hindu community. Their anger was further fuelled by the suspicion that the perpetrators of the crime were Muslims.

In the case of public lynchings of people suspected of a crime, such as the lynching and death of five men on 1 July in Dhule, Maharashtra, we need to realise that such actions are often not necessarily premeditated. Nor does the public judge them on the basis of fairness or objectivity. In fact, although such actions are provoked and fuelled by posts on social media, they are indefensible. For example, one cannot defend the Dhule lynching, where the mob took the law into its own hands, by arguing that the established law and order system had failed to act on time to dissuade people from doing what they did. Taking the law into one’s hand, in effect, tends to “short-circuit” legal/rational thinking into violent action. Of course, there are some exemplary exceptions such as the policeman who saved a man from being lynched in Uttarakhand in May 2018, and more recently in Malegaon, Maharashtra, where local people saved five persons, including women, from being attacked by a mob.

The impulse for lynching is driven by two factors. One is a cultivated prejudice, and the other is a collective sense of insecurity that results from the overall inefficiency of the police and the judiciary. For example, the mob lynching of Pehlu Khan in April 2017 by so-called gau rakshaks and other such incidents of lynching were motivated by the cultivated suspicion against members of a particular community.

The monstrous desire that seeks the public flogging and hanging of culprits in cases of rape is deeply mediated by the primary commitment to caste and community. Caste and communal factors begin to intersect with the process of shaping the legal consciousness once the social background of the victim and the tormentor is made public. Thus, if the tormentor belongs to a social background other than that of the victim, who might be from the Dalit or mino­rity community, it is likely to invoke either complete indifference or rhetorical support to the rule of law. This was evident in the case of the 2006 Dalit massacre in Khairlanji in Maharashtra. If the victim belongs to a minority community, it seems to invoke a complete contempt for the rule of law not only by the members of the dominant community, but, most shockingly, by the “defenders of the law” as happened in the case of the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua, Jammu and Kashmir, earlier this year.

On the other side of the spectrum, if the victims happen to be from non-Dalit or non-minority social backgrounds, then the reaction of the non-Dalits and non-minority members of Indian society is to want instant corporal punishment involving flogging and lynching of the suspected culprit. This discriminatory attitude towards events of social tragedy was evident in the rape cases in Kopardi village, Maharashtra in 2016 and in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, last month. In Kopardi, one could see the outrage of women who shared the same social background as the victim. These women were seen on television demanding genital mutilation of the rapists. It was the same response in Mandsaur. The latter created a win–win situation for the members of the majority community, who would hold the following unilateral principle of justice: “Tails you lose, heads I win.”

The discriminatory response to mob lynching and mobilisation demanding corporal punishment thus suggests that the closer one is to the caste or religious ideology of the victims, the further one is from the rule of law. The closer one is to the caste or religion of the perpetrator, the shorter is the distance from the rule of law. Caste and communal consciousness carry the same essence in the Indian context. The stronger the caste and communal consciousness, the weaker and more fragile is the influence of the legal consciousness and belief in the law. Conversely, the weaker the influence of caste consciousness, the stronger the legal consciousness is supposed to be among the citizens of India.

In both, the desire as well as the mass action leading to actual lyn­ching seek to radically undermine the need to respect the rule of law and thereby result in jeopardising the very future of democracy.

Updated On : 9th Jul, 2018

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