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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Framing an agitation

There is enough evidence to proceed against the kind of mobs that paralysed Punjab this week

Written by The Indian Express |
May 29, 2009 11:43:36 pm

It is so ritualised you are forgiven for changing channels. News TV covers hundreds of stick-wielding,slogan-mouthing protestors injuring cops,setting alight trains,damaging shop fronts,and bringing entire cities to a grinding halt. The coverage of this vandalism is always contextualised and explained by the larger political winds that triggered this storm. One only has to look back to the Gurjjar demand for reservations,solidarity over the plight of Sri Lankan Tamils,or even,most recent,the killing of a Dera Sachkhand Balan leader in Vienna,to see how the mob violence that follows is always justified as being political protest. But giving context to the violence only gives glory to,and ends up obscuring,what candid camera has caught — that this is hooliganism and it is unacceptable. It’s about time we cracked the whip.

The letter of the law is in indelible ink: burning buses,stoning shop fronts and disruption by mobs are penal offences that carry heavy fines and jail time. Evidence is also on easy offer,what with news channels capturing the unabashed rioter for prime time viewing. Why then don’t we ever hear of any of these hoodlums being brought to justice? The main reason these vandals get away is misplaced sympathy and state reluctance. Misplaced sympathy that the Vienna massacre somehow “justifies” or helps “understand” the anger of those “provoked”. State reluctance,because in the political compromises that inevitably ensue — picture the smile-please handshakes that ended the Gurjjar agitation — the government agrees to drop legal charges as part of a political deal.

This is both wrong and unwise. The legal consequences for rioting and thuggery are non-negotiable; the law is not up for barter. The cost to the public (and private) exchequer is also significant. Also,the “go-easy” policy on those who cite political grievances for more temporal damage only encourages law-breakers to look for the next excuse. Taking action against those who rioted in Punjab these last three days offers a test case for the government. Sometimes forgiveness comes with a heavy cost.

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