In general terms, mob lynching is seen as an outrageous and illegal public act whereby an uncontrolled mob attacks a person to death. Lynching is seen as a recent concept in the Indian context and its glossary constantly changes as earlier it was broadly seen as majority dominance over the minority. Today we see various factors and reasons behind the heinous act. The major reasons of mob lynching in India are related to caste, religion, region, politics, witch-hunting and intolerance. Another reason that has garnered attention after the Palghar mob lynching case is rumours.
On April 16 2020, three men suspected of being child kidnappers were lynched at night by a mob in Maharashtra’s Palghar district. The victims were driving to a funeral in Surat when a group of vigilantes in Gadchinchle, a tribal village, stopped their car and attacked them with stones, logs, and axes.
It has been noticed in the history of attacks on travellers in the area that, over the past few days, local villagers had formed vigilante groups after rumours of thieves operating in the area had spread like fire. On account of these rumours, many assault cases were reported against the vigilantes who had attacked and pelted stones on several individuals including policemen and social activists who visited the area to supply essentials during the national lockdown.
What does psychology say?
Explaining the psychology of an outraged mob, Aditi Kumar, a Delhi based psychiatrist said, “It all depends on the belief system we have. It is done by people who feel they have authority to the extent that they can shun responsibilities. With this, the defence mechanism that ‘I am the representative of the entire community’ comes into play. It’s an idea that an individual is not killing another individual, but they are doing it on behalf of the entire community, which means to them that they are not alone in taking the life of a person.”
The same happened in Palghar’s case. The feeling of saving the community from outside threats or disgrace often stimulates the aggressive feeling of removing the threats anyhow, no matter how inhumane it goes. While beginning the act of beating the threat, an automated synchronization of vocalizations, expressions and movements produces a reflexive emotional contagion in the mob. This synchrony leads to the formation of a strong affective feeling of hate for the victim.
How can lynchings be prevented?
Indeed there is a need for strict and central legislation against crimes such as mob lynching. Unfortunately, India does not have any national laws on mob lynching even though the country has a long history of lynching. In 2018 the Supreme Court of India described lynching as a “horrendous act of mobocracy” and laid down guidelines for the state and central governments to frame laws specifically to deal with the crime of lynching.
So far only three states, Manipur, Rajasthan and West Bengal, have implemented specific laws against mob lynching. Otherwise, the crime of mob lynching is generally considered as equivalent to that of murder, and since a mob does not has a face, the punishment is difficult to be decided.
As far as preventive measures are concerned, the Supreme Court states that in every district there should be a Nodal Officer, a senior police officer, not below the rank of Superintendent of Police for taking measures to prevent incidents of mob violence and lynching. A special task force must be appointed to get the intelligence reports about the incidents, victims and perpetrators who spread the hate speeches and fake news. The places where recently mob violence took place must be taken in good care.
The Court prescribed that “it shall be the duty of every police officer to cause a mob to disperse, by exercising his power under Section 129 of CrPC, which, in his opinion, has a tendency to cause violence or wreak the havoc of lynching in the disguise of vigilantism or otherwise.” There should be seriousness in patrolling so that the anti-social elements involved in such crimes are discouraged and remain within the boundaries of law thus fearing to even think of taking the law into their own hands.
To tackle such problems, along with stringent laws, there is a need to spread quality education and awareness among people. Police investigations into most mob attack cases in rural India have revealed almost similar modus-operandi which must be improvised. Preservation of life is the most important right for an individual and the state has to protect it. The preventive, remedial and punitive measures laid down by the Supreme Court must be followed strictly.
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