In the wake of the brutal murder of Police Inspector Subodh Kumar Singh in Bulandshahr, Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje said that lynching is like murder should be looked at like a crime. Raje, however, clarified that it ought not to be looked at as a special matter. This is where the chief minister's comments get problematic.
Lynching is not merely an ordinary murder. Mob lynching, unlike murder, are done not to just attack the victim but to also send a broader social message that certain actions will be met with violent retribution. It is a form of vigilante justice that has no place in a civilised society.
Lynching shocks the collective conscience of a society for they are not merely in violation of the law, they are done with stark impunity to the law as it stands. The Supreme Court in July released guidelines to the states on how to tackle the problem of mob lynching and also suggested that the Centre bring in a strict anti-lynching law.
In its July judgment on mob violence and lynching the Supreme Court had this to say when it recommended that Parliament create a separate offence for lynching. It said, "We think it appropriate to recommend to the legislature, that is, the Parliament, to create a separate offence for lynching and provide adequate punishment for the same. We have said so as 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. There can be no trace of doubt that fear of law and veneration for the command of law constitute the foundation of a civilized society."
But how would such a law work in practice? After offences against the State, murder, under India's Penal Code, is the most heinous crime which may result in the death penalty. Therefore, even if participants of mob violence are charged with murder instead of under an anti-lynching law, they will be looking at pretty much the same penalty. What special laws can do, however, is change the way an anti-lynching provision can be administered. The laws can provide for preventive detention, preventive externment and can also criminalise acts that are associated with lynching such as the spreading of false rumours and the stoking of communal passions.
A classic example would be the SC/ST Atrocities Act which creates several classes of offences. In practice many of those offences also find root in the Indian Penal Code which is quite comprehensive when it comes to dealing with crime. However, the procedures under the Atrocities Act make the law far more stringent and create a deterrent effect.
While it may be easy for the chief minister to brush of acts of lynching as only being acts amounting to murder, the Supreme Court and common sense tell us otherwise.
Updated Date: Dec 06, 2018 17:46 PM