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The new abnormal

Supreme Court has broken the silence on lynching. It must be heard in letter and spirit

By: Editorial |
July 18, 2018 1:06:33 am
Supreme Court has broken the silence on lynching. It must be heard in letter and spirit The court must be applauded for the unambiguous way in which it has expressed its revulsion at “horrendous acts of mobocracy” and forthrightly warned against these patterns of violence becoming “the new normal”.

As it has done on so many occasions in the past, the Supreme Court of India has done the nation a service by breaking a silence. On Tuesday, a Chief Justice of India-led bench spoke on the shameful phenomenon of mob violence and vigilantism and lynching that has erupted frequently and flagrantly across states ruled by parties of all hues in recent days. The silence broken by the court is of the political class — most unforgivably, of government which has so far failed to acknowledge the gravity of the recurring crime. But on mob violence, often in the name of the cow, and mostly targeting the minority, vulnerable and weak, the Opposition has also been incoherent and muted. The court must be applauded, therefore, for the unambiguous way in which it has expressed its revulsion at “horrendous acts of mobocracy” and forthrightly warned against these patterns of violence becoming “the new normal”.

The court has gone further. It has suggested measures and given guidelines, for prevention, redressal and punishment of the crime of mob violence. For instance, appointment by states of senior police officers as nodal officers in districts, identification of vulnerable and sensitive regions and more efficient patrolling of highways in these areas. The lodging of FIRs without delay, and the framing of compensation schemes for victims and their families. Designated fast track courts to try the culprits and prompt departmental action against police officers and administrative officials who fail to uphold the law. The court has also recommended that a special law be framed by Parliament, creating a separate offence of lynching. These suggestions should now become the starting point for a wider exercise of consultation and discussion that involves the legislature, central and state governments. Many questions will need to be asked: How is mob violence to be defined? What will be the distinction, overlap or intersection between vigilantism, communal violence and hate crime? What will be the role of the Centre and the state in the framing of the law and its implementation? Can a law, howsoever well-framed, be effective in the absence of political will?

It is sobering that in 21st century India the apex court should call for a new law for lynching. It is disquieting that it should be left to the court to draw attention to the crime and the climate of intolerance and impunity it flourishes in, and to connect the dots between the law and order machinery, preservation of the “secular ethos” and the “pluralistic social fabric”. The court’s words must be a reproach for and they must prod not just the legislature and executive, but also the people: “The tumultuous dark clouds of vigilantism have the effect of shrouding the glorious ways of democracy and justice… “. And “bystander apathy, numbness of the mute spectators of the scene of the crime… and grandstanding of the incident by the perpetrators of the crimes including in the social media aggravates the entire problem”.

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First published on: 18-07-2018 at 01:06:33 am
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