Lynching/Mob violence: Article 21 at stake, Artificial Intelligence: Solving human and social development challenges Current Affairs 5th July, 2017

Lynching/Mob violence: Article 21 at stake, Artificial Intelligence: Solving human and social development challenges Current Affairs 5th July, 2017

Lynching/Mob violence: Article 21 at stake

Over the past two years or so we have seen a rising tide of violence, mainly in northern India, against Dalits and Muslims. This has revolved around the treatment of the cow. Indians have been physically attacked by rampaging mobs accusing them of storing beef or transporting cows for slaughter.

Recent events:

  • The lynching of police officer Mohammad Ayub Pandit in Srinagar’s Jama Masjid is a horrific new low. The deputy superintendent of police, who was on security duty at the mosque on the packed special night of Shab-e-Qadr prayers, was stoned and beaten to death, and his clothes torn off his body. He died on the spot. That a crowd of apparent worshippers was able to kill a person inside a mosque during the holy month speaks of a breakdown of the moral compass.
  • Recently 15-year-old Junaid Khan was stabbed to death on board a Delhi-Mathura train last week as he headed home to Ballabhgarh after Eid shopping, by a group of men who hurled religious slurs at him.
  • Zahid Rasool Bhat, 16 years old, a student of Class 10, the first member of his family to go to high school, succumbed to injuries sustained during a petrol bomb attack on the truck he was riding in Udhampur, by a mob that suspected him of transporting cattle/beef in October the same year.
  • Mohammad Akhlaq was lynched in Delhi’s backyard in Dadri, on suspicion of storing beef in September 2015.
  • On June 28, aroused citizens across the country gathered to protest against this violence under the banner ‘Not In My Name’. It is the most significant protest against intolerance that we have witnessed so far.

About the right to life:

  • Granted by Article 21 of the Fundamental Rights Chapter of the Constitution it states explicitly that no person shall be deprived of her life or personal liberty, save by procedure established by law.
  • In 1950, the Supreme Court, in the case of A.K. Gopalan vs the State of Madras , interpreted the phrase “procedure established by law” as any procedure laid down in a statute enacted by a competent legislature. For 23 years, the court did not interpret the right to life as a principle of natural justice, but as a fragile right that could be taken away by arbitrary legislation.
  • In the Maneka Gandhi case (1977), the court ruled that the right to life had to be read along with the right to equality and the right to freedom, granted by Articles 14 and 19 of the Fundamental Rights Chapter. Any procedure that could possibly infringe on the right to life and personal liberty had to be right, just, and fair, and not arbitrary, fanciful and oppressive. The court would decide whether a procedure is just.


  • In the two years since, incidents of mob justice have come to light time and again.
  • The state response has been conspicuously lacking more often than not. The situation is deplorable both for the cumulative effect on the moral life of the nation. It sends a troubling message about the state’s abilities and prerogatives.
  • The majoritarian nature of many of the lynchings, perpetrated by self-styled gau rakshaks. Cow protection has been a symbol in these incidents—a means of acting against the victims for reasons that have to do either with religion or caste. Muslims and Dalits have been targeted repeatedly on the flimsiest of pretexts.

A weak response:

  • After Mohammad Akhlaq was murdered in Dadri, a minister attended the funeral of one of the alleged assailants who later died naturally, and the casket containing the alleged assailant’s body was draped with the tricolour.
  • Rajasthan’s chief minister, Vasundhara Raje, waited three weeks before warning cow vigilantes after Pehlu Khan’s murder in Alwar.
  • Prime Minister Narendra Modi has spoken against such incidents, but in less than categorical terms, and often after several days, unlike the alacrity with which he responds to terrorist attacks abroad.

What has led to such intolearnce?

  • The judiciary—the bulwark of a liberal democratic state—has not always played its role adequately.
  • In many of the instances of mob violence over the past few years, the law and order machinery was either present but stood by, or failed to respond adequately in the aftermath. And when the government of the day fails to respond to mob violence in line with Constitutional principles—or when the judiciary fails to uphold those principles—the state’s capacity to keep society’s worst impulses in check is further eroded.

What needs to be done?

  • Democratic citizens need to deepen protests, because lynching and murders are not random or isolated incidents.
  • Perpetrators of violence must be punished, aspirant wrongdoers must be deterred, and civil liberties must be restored. If India has some claim to constitutional democracy, the sanctity of fundamental rights must be upheld.
  • Police reforms—which have gone abegging since as far back as 1977’s National Police Commission—will help, whether it is by improving organizational capabilities or insulating the police from political pressure.
  • Any concrete change will require political will to initiate reforms—and then to hold the law and order machinery accountable through transparent mechanisms when it fails to deliver.
  • Governments at both the Central and state levels must share some of the blame for this. They have often looked away, and in some instances, been direct enablers, either victim-blaming or equivocating.

Way ahead:

  • It is expected of government to protect citizens from assault by fascist forces and he should mobilise the government machinery to do so.
  • That law and order is a State subject is not an excuse and in any case most of this violence is taking place in States ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party.
  • It is clear that the civil administration code in India sufficiently empowers the district-governing authority to deal with the situations related to mob lynching. As vigilantism, often enacted while the police stand by watching, is completely unacceptable in a democracy, one would expect the government to outline in Parliament what it intends to do to eliminate it.
  • The liberal democratic norms and structures in the Constitution are a mechanism to keep society’s capacity for oppression in check. After all, as Martin Luther King Jr pointed out, if “morality cannot be legislated, behavior can be regulated”. These norms and structures must be made effective by enforcing and regulating them.

Impact of such incidents:

  • Desolate cities will emerge because vulnerable communities, in search of protection, will migrate to ghettos overflowing with their own people. The fate of a ghettoised city is depressing. Residential exclusion narrows the cultural and political horizons of communities, closes off options, pre-empts creative mingling of perspectives and prevents solidarity.
  • State will losse its legitmacy to govern leading to complete breakdown of law and order.


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