The glaring absence of figures relating to incidents of lynching in the recently released National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) database on the pretext that the data received from the states were “unreliable” hints at a deliberate attempt to keep the figures under wraps.
Figures available from various other sources indicate that in 63 incidents, 28 persons were killed between 2010 and 2017, of which 24 were Muslims. There have been 266 cases of lynching since 2014 and this continues to show an upward trend, casting an adverse impression about the role of the police in arresting such trends.
On June 17 night, Tabrez Ansari, 24, along with two others was on his way to his home in Saraikela from Jamshedpur when they were waylaid by goons of village Dhatkidih on suspicion of being thieves. While the two friends escaped, Ansari was tied to a pole and brutally beaten by a mob for several hours.
When the police arrived, they took him to a police station and then shifted him to a hospital. After a perfunctory medical examination, the doctor declared him fit. Four days later, Tabrez died due to brain haemorrhage. Had the police acted promptly on receiving information from the village chief, his life could have been saved.
Exactly a year before the incident at Saraikela, Qasim Qureshi and Samiuddin were brutally attacked in Hapur, resulting in the death of the former and serious injuries to the latter. A few police personnel are also suspected to have been part of the lynch mob.
While the ugly manner in which the policemen dragged the two victims of lynch mob to the vehicle drew apologies from senior police officials, the manner in which they were treated reflects their abhorrence for the victims. To add to the woes of the surviving victim, an attempt was initially made to close the matter as an incident of road rage. No effort was made to preserve evidence to make a strong case against the culprits.
Though there can be no denying that the police has played a partisan role in most incidents of lynching, there have been cases where policemen acted promptly and prevented incidents of lynching. The derring-do displayed by sub-inspector Gagandeep Singh of Uttarakhand Police in saving a Muslim youth from an irate mob near Garjiya Devi temple in Ramnagar on May 22 last year is one such example.
The Supreme Court has directed the Centre and all states to frame stringent laws against lynching. While Manipur passed an anti-lynching law last November, Rajasthan and West Bengal have passed such legislation more recently.
West Bengal’s law is stringent, punishing with death those held guilty of lynching victims to death. But these will be futile unless they are strictly enforced on the ground. Political patronage to fundamentalist elements will deter the policemen from doing their duty.
Among other recommendations, the Uttar Pradesh State Law Commission has stressed the need to take stringent action against officials for dereliction of their duties. The district magistrate and police officers can be imprisoned for a term extending upto three years with a fine upto Rs 5000.
Apart from monitoring fake news and arresting those who originate and forward news that could trigger mob violence or communal unrest, the police has to spread its intelligence dragnet to such an extent that any plan to upset the law and order machinery is reported to the control room within minutes. Districts that are communally sensitive ought to have additional armed and well-equipped companies to rush to any spot within minutes to handle frenzied mobs.
Prompt investigations into incidents of mob lynching followed by arrests and trial by fast track courts could go a long way in curbing such incidents. It is likely that every effort will be made to influence the victims and witnesses to either withdraw the case or to give statements that would weaken the prosecution’s case.
The responsibility will, therefore, devolve on the police to protect the witnesses and the victims. In the interest of the victims and the witnesses, lynching must be made a non-bailable offence. Policemen who watch as mute spectators should also be tried in the same manner as the culprits. Senior police officers also need to be taken to task if found guilty of dereliction of duty.
This article first appeared in the print edition on October 24, 2019, under the title ‘The law isn’t enough’. The writer retired as inspector general of police, CRPF.
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