How PM Modi and RSS can show they truly condemn mob lynching

The government should walk the talk against vigilantism by enacting an anti-lynching law - Masuka.

 |   Long-form |   07-08-2017
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Since the Narendra Modi government has come to power in 2014, incidents of cow-related violence have risen substantially.

According to an Observer Research Foundation analysis, in January 2011, of the total incidents of lynching, merely 5 per cent were related to cow or gau rakshaks. That has risen to 20 per cent of the total incidents by June.

A recent report by India Spend reveals that 97 per cent of all attacks by gau rakshaks between 2010 and 2017, were reported after Modi government came to power.

The majority of the cases have been reported from BJP-ruled states and 61 of a total 63 cases were registered after the formation of gau raksha dals and the implementation of "beef ban".

Increasingly, there has been a normalisation of such mob violence in the past few months. It began with the killing of a young techie in Pune, Mohsin Shaikh, and the killing of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri over beef rumours.

The Dalits of Una in Gujarat were also targeted and a series of cases were reported particularly from Jharkhand, Delhi, Rajasthan and Gujarat. In Rajasthan, the killing of a dairy farmer, Pehlu Khan, who had all the valid documents to transport a cow once again shocked the nation. But the lynchings continued.

Worryingly, it is no longer in the name of cow or beef either. Now just about any reason will do to lynch a person. The latest case is from Agra where an elderly Dalit woman was killed after being labelled a "witch" and accused of snipping women's hair.

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While the public lynching of a 16-year-old boy, Junaid, who was also abused with anti-national slurs in Haryana or the slapping of an imam in Hisar by members of groups affiliated to the Sangh Parivar after the Amarnath Yatra, were not over cow or beef per se, and were mostly Islamophobic in nature and involved clear-cut hate crimes. One does recognise that at the heart of the issue is the violation of the rule of law.

That the government machinery and police do not act strongly against the perpetrators and either collude or remain mute spectators is an even more worrying trend. Partly, the tacit and explicit political and ideological shelter and justification given by the ruling dispensation to such crimes grants an immunity to the vigilantes.

Take for example the laying of the tricolour on the body of the murderer of Akhlaq in the presence of Union minister Mahesh Sharma. Akhlaq's son was in the Air Force, yet the prime minister did not tweet or issue any statement about his lynching, nor did he act against the minister's disgraceful act.

After the Una incident, the prime minister made a few cosmetic statements against cow vigilantes, but the Dalits of Una still await justice. Notwithstanding the prime minister's warning, cow terrorists continued to kill innocent people.

Killing of Pehlu Khan was justified by the Rajasthan home minister. When the prime minister broke his silence on this issue for the second time, on that very day a Muslim was lynched in the BJP-ruled Jharkhand, and one of the accused arrested for the incident was a BJP leader.

Ironically, a BJP worker from Nagpur was also beaten up by cow vigilantes on the suspicion of carrying beef.

The matter has gone so much out of hand that the Supreme Court of India acting on a petition, filed by Tehseen Poonawalla and me, has issued notices to the central government and six state governments. Most of the respondent parties are yet to take a definitive stand on the matter, clearly indicating the sheer reluctance on their part to crack down on these vigilantes.

The mob madness has now started to target other communities too. A rickshaw driver, Ravindra, was lynched because he objected to certain people urinating in public. Zafar Khan, Ayub Pandit and 10 Muslims from a family travelling in a train near Mainpuri were also targeted by mobs in separate incidents recently for reasons other than cow and beef.

To deal with the epidemic of mob violence and lynching, recently a group of civil society activists launched a National Campaign Against Mob Lynching (NCAML) while senior lawyers and constitutional experts helped prepare a draft law - Manav Suraksha Kanoon (Masuka). This law was unveiled by Prakash Ambedkar, who is the grandson of BR Ambedkar.

This law for the first time defines mob lynching in a precise manner. It makes mob lynching a cognizable and non-bailable offence.

While there are provisions in the Indian Penal Code, 1860, to deal with violence and murder, the Masuka draft law provides for stricter punishment (right up to life imprisonment) in case of mob lynching. For the first time, the duties of the police and the district magistrate in preventing mob lynchings have been defined, besides punishment for police and local administration for failing to prevent mob lynching.

Those who spread offensive material through social media to incite mob lynching will also be punished under this law. Whoever does conspiracy to lynch another person will be punished as well. Since in most cases, local police officers have been accused of being involved or complicit in mob lynchings, there is a provision in the law that the case should immediately be taken up through judicial probe to ensure fair investigation.

In Junaid's case, no witnesses came forward to testify about the public lynching of the 16-year-old. The draft law ensures that witnesses and victims are protected with provision for witness protection. Obstruction in the legal process, including political interference has been made punishable. The law for the first time provides compensation to victims of mob lynching and Rs 25 lakh is the minimum amount fixed for such deaths.

Finally, the draft law also provides for continuous review of ongoing investigation of lynching cases. If a chargesheet has not been filed in three months or if there is an acquittal, the entire case would be reviewed by the senior-most leadership of the police in the state.

These comprehensive provisions in the Masuka draft law are bound to have greater deterrence against mob lynchings than the current weak laws. Just like we needed changes in the rape laws after the 2012 Nirbhaya case, and just like there is a special act to end atrocities against Dalits, such a special law against mob lynching is also the need of the hour.

The team which has come out with this draft law has appealed to the prime minister to pass this law in the forthcoming session of Parliament. Prominent personalities such as actor Swara Bhaskar, comedian Sanjay Rajoura, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, Delhi deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia, and others have requested the government to take note of this demand.

On July 19, team Masuka got support from opposition MPs, including senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh, CPI(M) MP MB Rajesh, Sanjay Singh from AAP, Manoj Jha from RJD, Pavan Verma from JD(U), DMK MP TKS Elangovan and members from the SP and the BSP, to put pressure on the government to pass this law or else to introduce this bill as a private member bill in Parliament.

Former law minister Salman Khurshid also endorsed the draft law. TMC MP Saugata Roy, during the discussion in Lok Sabha on mob lynching, formally expressed a demand to implement the Masuka draft law across India.

The Modi government should not miss this opportunity to walk the talk against mob lynching and vigilantism by making it (Masuka) a law.

Already such incidents have earned the government a lot of flak in the foreign media. Moreover, the recent killings of RSS workers in Kerala have got the Modi government riled up. The NCAML condemned violence against RSS workers too and explained how provisions of Masuka could offer protection and justice to these victims of political mob violence in states such as Kerala.

The BJP and the RSS should support Masuka because it will safeguard its activists in Kerala and other places too.

The prime minister, who is famous for his "Mann ki Baat", must not ignore this "Jan ki Baat (voice of the people)" on this issue. What is at stake is not just the secular fabric of this country, but the most important fundamental right granted to every Indian citizen under Article 21 - the right to life.

The Masuka draft law is the legal articulation and embodiment of Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. To ignore this would help the opposition level and allegation against the Modi government that it does not care about rule of law enshrined in the Constitution.

At the very least, the Modi government should refer the draft law to a parliamentary committee for consultations.

No one knows who is next on the radar of these vigilantes. Before another precious life is lost, we must, as a country, ensure this legal and societal change.

The United States passed a similar legislation against lynching of African-American citizens. But for 100 years such a law had been blocked and the United States upper house apologised for the delay.

Hopefully, the Indian Parliament will not make the same mistake and shall pass this law which guarantees that our democracy doesn't descend into a mobocracy.

Also read: Lynching is a lynching: The next Junaid Khan could be anyone

Writer

Shehzad Poonawalla Shehzad Poonawalla @shehzad_ind

Formerly served with ministry of parliamentary affairs, Govt of India. He is a lawyer, civil rights activist and a Congress party supporter. Views are personal.

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