When a call for summary execution goes out from Parliament, a democracy is pushed to the brink of lawlessness. That’s where India stands, after the Telangana police shot down four men accused of raping and murdering a woman in Hyderabad. The brazen choreography of events — the four men, unarmed and in police custody, are taken at midnight to the spot where the veterinarian had been violated and shot dead when they allegedly grabbed the policemen’s firearms — reflects an idea of medieval mob justice that was heard, over and over again, in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, as legislators called for, among other things, the “lynching” of rapists. It was an abdication of their role and responsibility as lawmakers sworn to the Constitution.
More politicians have come out in praise of the police action. BJP MP and former minister Rajyavardhan Rathore called it the “victory of good over evil”. BJP leader Shaina NC termed it “natural justice”. BSP chief Mayawati exhorted other state police departments to take inspiration from the Telangana cops. Samajwadi Party MP Jaya Bachchan, who had called for a lynching, said “better late than never”. Congress leader Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a lawyer, tweeted a high-five emoji, and said that it was time to bow to the “mood and sentiments” of the “people”.
Former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan tweeted that “demons of Hyderabad have been punished for their sins… the wicked should be treated in this manner”. Images of people cheering the Hyderabad police or showering them with rose petals might explain the narrow political logic of such statements. But it only underlines that India’s political class is choosing to whip up a toxic primal anger that never lies too far beneath this grossly unequal society. They are choosing to not just cheer, but lead the bloodthirsty mob.
In the name of the people, the call is going out to junk due process and the established norms by which a civilised society decides to affix guilt and punishment, the checks and balances that stand up to the excesses of power. The many lynching incidents in the last few years have already warned how a corrosive search for the “enemy” is leading to brutal violence, whether against “child-lifters” or “cow smugglers”. Moreover, in an iniquitous society, public outrage is easily gamed when those in the dock are the “others” — the poor and the working class. The same political class that cheers vigilantism is noticeably muted when the powerful are the accused.
In Hyderabad, now, the question to ask is not just “what if the four men were innocent?” But also, “what if they were not?” Their guilt ought to have been established in the court of law and punished. If the impatience with a long-drawn out legal process is being used to justify police lawlessness, the judiciary must urgently step in to stanch this anti-democratic spiral.
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