Anatomy of lynching: Hapur violence exposes police failure in controlling mobs; tightening intel, raising awareness are key
Hapur is notorious for cases of mob violence. Several videos have appeared showing Dalits being thrashed and local goons being left at the mercy of the people.
Editor's note: According to the Ministry of Home Affairs, between 2014 and 3 March, 2018, 45 people were killed in mob lynchings across nine states in India. In the latest example, a group of villagers beat to death 28-year-old Akbar Khan in Rajasthan's Alwar district, an incident that came to light just five days after the Supreme Court urged the Centre to frame a law to curb lynchings. In a three-part series, Firspost analyses the psyche of the mob and the reasons that fuel this mobocracy across the country.
New Delhi/Pilkhuwa: Mohammed Salim, the younger brother of Mohammed Qasim (45) who was lynched in Hapur, has been skeptical of the ongoing police probe into the case. Qasim was beaten to death on 18 June by an irate mob which accused him of attempting cow slaughter near Pilkhuwa in the Hapur district of Uttar Pradesh. “The video (of the incident) shows more than 20 people from nearby villages attacking my brother. I have three such videos with me. Yet, only four people were arrested and one got bail. Not a single government officer came to meet us after the incident,” Salim said outside his two-storey rented house in Pilkhuwa, situated around 70 kilometres from the national capital.
The 34-year-old said the Muslim community in the area has apprehensions about its safety. However, apart from deploying two policemen near the deceased’s house, no other steps have been taken by the local police or administration.
Hapur is notorious for cases of mob violence. More and more videos have appeared showing Dalits being thrashed, local goons being left at the mercy of the people and young men being beaten with iron roads. The repetitive nature of such incidents only hints at the failure of the local police in maintaining law and order.
Losing faith in police
Former senior police officials have suggested that the failure to instill the fear of law in the hearts of such violent mobs can be connected to a loss of faith in the police and local administration. “There is no shortage of laws to deal with such situations. The Indian Police Act clearly mentions that the police need to take measures to prevent a crime,” said PM Nair, former DGP of Bihar. “Mob lynching taking place in an area indicates the utter failure of the local police. It also indicates that the police there have lost face."
Nair also said the police need to chip in, especially in vulnerable areas, to win the trust of the people. He also recommended tightening of the local intelligence to prevent any untoward incident. All these measures should be accompanied by mass mobilisation and awareness programmes that can bridge the trust deficit between the people and the police in these areas.
Legal experts believe that ‘mob lynching’ cases are akin to ‘riots’ and due to the crowd factor, the investigation is often botched up in such cases. Abhijeet Sengupta, a Supreme Court lawyer, said, “Several such cases in the courts have often seen delayed justice as they take a longer time. Many witnesses backtrack from their statements.”
Sengupta argued that many policemen heading such probes are not well trained to follow up the case and ensure justice. The presence of 'creative' online writers, who are champions in presenting fake news through social networking sites, often creates more fissures in the society, adding to the spread of rumours leading to violence and deaths.
Cyberspace and the fake news phenomenon
The increasing levels of internet penetration in the country and the availability of cheap smartphones has connected people like never before. While this has its own benefits, a major drawback is the anonymity it offers to those spreading fake news and rumours.
The people armed with smartphones today might not be digitally literate, which is a matter of grave concern. Not everybody is taught to verify the authenticity of the messages they receive, thereby leading to fear and paranoia. While WhatsApp lacks the option to flag messages which are fake or abusive in nature, Facebook and Twitter are yet to formulate an aggressive strategy to curb such content, amplifying the problem further.
Cyber law experts believe the country now needs a social media policy to combat any threat to life or persons due to fake news and rumours. Prashant Mali, a leading cyber law and cyber security expert from Mumbai, advocated formulating a ‘national social media policy’ to tackle cases of mob lynching—now a major threat to internal security.
“Police are reacting instead of anticipating, due to the lack of cyber intelligence. There needs to be a provision for setting up a cyber spy wing under the crime department immediately. The cyber spies could be members of various social media groups and monitor content. Apart from this, the local administration needs to spread awareness about fake news in vernacular languages in villages,” Prashant said.
He added that India needs a cyber policy like the EU, which is implementing removal of content involving hate speech, terror-inflicting materials and child pornography within 48 hours, failing which the company faces a fine and jail term. Mali said that striking down Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000 in the Shreya Singhal case by the Supreme Court has created a void in tackling cyber crime cases as it has now deprived the law enforcing agencies of stronger provisions to nail cyber criminals.
What does the government say?
At a time when policymakers should be up in arms against those spreading fake news or participating in mob lynching incidents, some lawmakers are indulging in the opposite—going even to the extent of felicitating them. Recently, Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha garlanded the six accused in the Alimuddin Ansari lynching case, causing quite a furore on social media. The minister ultimately had to offer a carefully-worded apology.
This is not the first incident when a member of the ruling party has promoted or supported those involved in such cases. Union minister Giriraj Singh came out in support of the VHP and Bajrang Dal activists arrested in connection with communal violence during last year’s Ramnavami. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Many politicians have fallen prey to fake news circulating on social media and repeatedly endorse accounts spewing venom in the cyberspace.
When approached for a comment on long-term plans to tackle fake news and control mob lynching, officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting did not respond to calls and emails till the time of writing this story.
On 5 June, the home ministry is reported to have issued advisories to states to take special measures to curb rumour mills. District administrations have also been asked to identify vulnerable areas and conduct community outreach programmes to create awareness.
While responding to a question in Lok Sabha on 13 March, the home ministry told Parliament that the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) does not maintain data on the cases of "mob lynching' and policing is a state subject. However, it said that since 2014, 40 lynching-related cases were filed in the country and 45 people had died in such incidents. It also mentioned that 217 arrests were made in such cases so far. Most of the cases were reported from Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Assam and Meghalaya.
The Election Commission of Maharashtra is now reported to have constituted a core committee of social media experts for curbing fake news during elections, according to Mali, who is also a member of the panel.
The preparedness of the Telangana Police has been reported as a good practice to tackle fake news and rumours spread through messaging apps. Utilising conventional as well as modern techniques to create awareness, the state police have been releasing information to bust fake news and arresting people involved in spreading such rumours. Some other states are also reportedly coming out with their own plans to tackle the menace.
Some reports also claim that the PMO has asked for specialised groups to be created by states under the supervision of the intelligence agency and home ministry which can study the terminology and secret codes that are likely to be used in vernacular languages to target the vitriolic messages flowing into the cyberspace.
The author is a New Delhi- based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters
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