The Kerala High Court's decision to register a suo motu case in connection with the mob lynching of a tribal youth, Madhu Chindaki, at Attapadi in Palakkad district on 22 February, has turned the focus on the increasing incidents of mobocracy in the state that prides for its progressive moorings.
Chief Justice Antony Dominic ordered the registration of a public interest litigation (PIL) on a letter written by Justice K Surendra Mohan of Kerala State Legal Services Authority (KELSA) seeking the court’s intervention. The 30-year-old tribal youth was beaten to death by a 16-member group for allegedly stealing a small amount of rice and other food items.
Justice Surendra Mohan described the incident as an example of the moral lapse that is creeping into the Kerala society of late and called for urgent measures to remedy them. He was prompted by a series of mob attacks in different parts of the state in the recent months.
The lynching of Madhu is the sixth mob attack reported in Kerala in the last one month. A heart-wrenching incident was the brutal attack on a pregnant woman and her husband by a group of six persons, including a ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader, at Kodencherry in Kozhikode district on 28 January in front of a large crowd.
The expectant mother was attacked when she tried to prevent the gang from beating up her husband Sibi Chacko during a scuffle over the ownership of a piece of land. The woman, who was under critical care, lost her child five days later.
Seven days later, a migrant worker from Orissa was brutally assaulted by a group in Kannur district. The man named Chottu was accused of being part of a kidnapping network that targeted young children. The local residents at Kannavanam grew suspicious about him when they spotted the photograph of a child with him. Police investigation revealed that the photograph had fallen from the purse of a bus driver and Chottu had picked it up and kept in his pocket.
Earlier on 30 January, a mentally-challenged woman was beaten up by a group of women in front of large crowd at Vypeen in Ernakulam district. Accusing the woman of creating a nuisance for them, the assailants dragged her along the ground, thrashed her with sticks and burnt her heels with an iron rod. Her 14-year-old daughter, who tried to intervene, was also injured in the attack.
Psychiatrists view these incidents as a sign of dangerous metamorphosis happening in the society, in which these types of mob attacks were unheard of earlier. Kochi-based senior psychiatrist Dr CJ John said that the trend had started picking up in the state following the proliferation of social media.
He told Firstpost that people who indulge in group violence were trying to become superheroes after getting influenced by the cinema. "This is the reason why they are posting the video clips of the attack on social media," Dr John said, adding that the assailants are also finding a sadistic pleasure in their actions.
He said the groups have been mostly targeting the weaker people. According to him, the marginalised sections like transgenders, migrant workers and Dalits are easy preys to mob attacks. The mobs target the weaker sections as they don't have the inherent strength to resist the attacks.
Migrants from other states are one such group. Attacks on them are reported on a regular basis. A migrant labourer from Assam was killed after he was assaulted by a group of people at Chingavanam in Kottayam district in May last year. About 50 people watched as the mod tied Kailash Jyothi Behra (30) to a tree and left him to die in the hot sun after mistaking him to be a thief. The police investigation revealed that the allegation was false.
Labour activists say, migrants, who number about 3.5 million, are feeling highly insecure in Kerala as the local people are showing intolerance and treating them as second-class citizens. Father Shin Kallungal, director of Jeevika, a voluntary organisation working among migrants, told Firstpost that the local people are suspicious of a migrant worker's involvement whenever a crime occurs in the area.
The finger of suspicion is always first pointed at the migrant worker whenever a theft or murder takes place. The gruesome murder of a Dalit law student at Perumbavoor near Kochi allegedly by a worker from Assam last year has deepened the mistrust.
Same is the plight of transgenders, who are treated as criminals not only by the locals but also the police and dealt with accordingly. A transgender woman was stripped and assaulted by a group of about 30 people at Valiythura in Thiruvananthapuram on 5 February, alleging that she was trying to abduct children. The police found the allegation false but before that, the video clippings of the attack found its way o to social media.
Transgenders are highly vulnerable to the police high-handedness. The cops are in the habit of picking up transgenders whenever they move in the night on the charges of flesh trade, theft etc. The Kozhikode police had taken into custody two transgender persons returning from an art festival in a school in the city in December last year and beat them black and blue, mistaking them to be 'pickpockets'.
Transgender rights activists said transgender persons had faced 15 attacks, including a murder, in the last eight months. They said that the members of the sexual minority have been living under constant fear in the state.
Dr John believes that the attacks on the weaker section are due to the feudal hangover still prevailing in the society. "While Dalits and the working class dominated by feudal lords once have become politically and economically empowered following land reforms, the persisting feudal mindset is trying to create a new segment of people for subjugation," he added.
The psychiatrist said that the political violence spreading in the state was also a sort of mob action. While on the one hand, the crowd created by political parties with a purpose indulges in violence and on the other the unorganised association of people carries out the killing on certain faulty premises.
Dr John said the failure of law and order machinery was one of the major reasons for the increase in the mob attacks. People take the law into their hands thinking that those they target may escape the clutches of law if let free, he said adding that even the police themselves were encouraging them in some instances.
For instance, the Vypeen police had allegedly asked the group of women, who attacked the mentally challenged woman, to do what they want when they approached them with complaints against the victim.
Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala of the Congress alleged that the police had even joined the mob in the tribal youth lynching case. He also accused the forest officials of abetting the crime by accompanying the mob when the tribal youth was dragged from the reserve forest.
Dr John said that the failure of the police in taking action against those indulging in mob violence was also responsible for the increase in the episodes of mob violence. The reply to a question in the state Assembly on the atrocities against scheduled castes and tribes on 28 February is revealing.
In his written reply, minister for the SC/ST Welfare AK Balan said none was convicted in 335 cases registered in connection with atrocities against the SCs and STs in the last two years. Similarly, arrests were made only in three of the six mob attack cases in the last one month.
Political analyst K Venu views the mob rule as a reflection of the dearth of civic sense in the state. "Malayali society has not been able to develop a civil sense and a democratic relationship towards its individuals and society at large. Political parties have also not tried to change this feudal, colonial mindset in the society. An internal democratisation, which is crucial for any society, has not yet happened in Kerala,” he was quoted by The Hindu as saying.
Updated Date: Mar 01, 2018 13:42 PM