Eleven men have been arrested and two policemen suspended for the murder of Tabrez Ansari, who died on Saturday, four days after a mob grievously assaulted him for suspected theft in Jharkhand. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in the Rajya Sabha that the lynching in Jharkhand has “pained” him. “Doshiyon ko kadi se kadi saza milnee chahiye (the guilty should be punished severely)”, he said. On coming back to power with an enhanced mandate, PM Modi had added “sabka vishwas” to his pledge of “sabka saath, sabka vikas”. Recent reports that have come in from some states of mobs forcing Muslim men to chant “Jai Shri Ram” and “Jai Hanuman”, and the murder of Ansari, who, too, was forced to do so by the mob that tied him to an electric pole and attacked him, have drawn attention to the urgent need for the PM’s message to be heeded — and enforced.
The incident in Jharkhand adds to a grim tally: At least 18 persons have been reportedly targeted and killed by a mob in the state since March 2016. There have been few convictions in these cases. Shockingly, in one instance, men convicted in a lynching incident at Ramgarh were later honoured by Jharkhand BJP leaders, including then Union minister Jayant Sinha. Mob violence is not confined to Jharkhand, nor is it a feature only of BJP-ruled states. However, the impression that the party in power condones mob justice, or looks the other way, especially if it targets individuals of the minority community, seems to have empowered vigilante groups in BJP-ruled states. It has also added a communal dimension to mob violence in these states. Shaken by these incidents, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court headed by then Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra, ruled in July last year that Parliament must “create a separate offence for lynching and provide adequate punishment for the same”. The Court said “a special law in this field would instil a sense of fear for law amongst the people who involve themselves in such kinds of activities”. A Group of Ministers was set up to look into the matter. There has been no visible progress on the matter since.
The fact is that existing laws are sufficient to tackle mob violence and vigilantism — if the executive has the political will to do so. The Raghubar Das government in Ranchi has done well to arrest those suspected of lynching Ansari. But its work is not yet done. It needs to ensure that due process is taken to its just conclusion, the culprits are punished and help is provided to the victim’s family. A stern message needs to be sent out that any attempt to subvert the law and due process will be punished quickly and firmly.
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