Lynching Laws In India

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Over the last few years, the surge in mob lynching incidents has been the top potato in the country which is a matter of grave concern. India being a democratic country has been facing this unfavorable form of crime against humanity, due to fake news, rumors, hate speeches, lack of awareness, etc. This form of crime is generally committed against vulnerable and marginalized groups. Mob lynching is a threat to mankind and its way of life. 

The objectives of this essay are to understand the nature, effects, and solutions of this heinous crime. Lynching has not been yet characterized under the Indian legal system and there are no codified laws in respect of lynching. However, the Pinnacle Court in the Poonawalla case issued certain guidelines and also recommended that there has to be an enactment of a special law on mob lynching as it is high time. This essay gives a content analysis of the sudden rise in mob lynching incidents in India, its various causes, and solutions with examples and judgments.

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Introduction to Mob Lynching:

Generally; Any act or series of acts of violence or aiding, abetting (encouraging) such act/acts thereof, whether spontaneous or planned, by a mob on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth, language, dietary practices, sexual orientation, political affiliation, ethnicity or any other related grounds.

  • Mob lynching is a form of violence in which a mob, under the pretext of administering justice without trial, executes a presumed offender, often after inflicting torture.
  • It is an illegally authorized way of punishing somebody by an informal group. It is most often also referred to as informal public executions by a mob who wishes to punish an alleged transgressor or to intimidate a group.
  • Such incidents are egregious manifestations of prejudice, intolerance, and contempt toward the rule of law.
  • There is “no separate” definition for such incidents under the existing IPC. Lynching incidents can be dealt with under Sections 300 and 302 of IPC.

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Laws Related To Mob Lynching In India

Section 302 provides that whoever commits murder shall be punished with death or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to a fine. The offense of murder is a cognizable, non-bailable, and non-compoundable offense. India does not have a specific law to deal with lynching. The IPC does not word lynching. However sec 223(a) of the code of criminal procedure (CRPC), 1973 states that a person or a mob in the same offense in the same act can be tried together. Somehow this provision has not helped in delivering justice in case of lynching.

In India, there is a number of incidents are coming of mob lynching regularly mainly this violence is strictly inflicted upon Muslim accused in the bovine related matter (love jihad) for other reason like inter-caste marriage or lynching against Dalit, lynching related to cow smuggling allegation, lynching related to child lifting suspicions.  These crimes take place when people get encouraged by hatred and anger and get ready to take law into their own hands. This violence is named hate crime based on the hate of people toward particular community religion, region caste, or sex. It is very crucial to think that why people suddenly consider a person harmful to the whole society and take such a drastic decision of killing him or her. Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, white people often used violence as a means to control African Americans. For example, lynching was a popular way of punishing Native Americans who were believed to be committing crimes. Lynching an informal punishment is committed by a non-statutory authority to do so. In many cases, censorship occurs when a group believes someone has committed a crime, even though they have not been tried or convicted. The economic outrage and efforts to prevent blacks from participating in the political process have also been a factor in the lynching. Examples of lynching include public hangings, wing bends, or other forms of excessive punishment or public execution.

Lynching is different from other forms of punishment because it is done by a community outside the legal system and is usually done by a group of people, rather than ordered by a judge or law enforcement officer. Lynching is a form of mob crime, where ordinary people gather to intimidate or punish someone, they feel has violated a legal, moral, or social standing. Although the origin of the word 'lynching' is unclear, it is reported that a Virginia court judge of the late 18th century, was known to regularly imprison British loyalists. Because they have never been charged and had no authority to imprison them, the practice is known as 'lynching'.

Ideally, India needs a special law against hate crimes and private discrimination on the basis of identity – any identity. low pending with the Union Home Ministry for approval. The West Bengal assembly has passed its own version, which seeks to award the death penalty as the highest punishment.

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Reasons for cases of mob lynching in India

  • Mob Psychology: People have less fear of being punished when they act in groups as it’s harder to identify real culprits. Further, there is the dispersion of responsibility and guilt unlike in individual action.
    Political Patronage: In competitive electoral politics, the culture of political mobilization based on social faultlines for polarization of the electorate into vote banks and the use of violence for garnering support and intimidating opponents, has gained strength. Few elected representatives also sometimes come out in open defense of the attackers.
  • Administrative Failure: Given the state of the police and judiciary in the country, there is a wide-ranging perception that ‘culprits’ go unpunished, and that there is a chance that the accused in heinous crimes like rape, child lifting, and cow slaughter will go scot-free. Vigilantism is a consequence of this basic failure of the government in providing justice.
  • A recent report by Delhi-based NGO Common Cause and CSDS mentioned that “35% of police personnel interviewed for the survey think it is natural for a mob to punish the “culprit” in cases of cow slaughter, and 43% think it is natural for a mob to punish someone accused of rape.”
  • Rumors on social media: Misinformation and propaganda spread through platforms like Facebook, and WhatsApp. E.g. recent rumors regarding child lifters have incited many impulsive and unplanned acts of violence across the country.
  • Societal factors: The idea of the so-called form of ‘instant’ justice is immensely popular. Further, the socio-political framework of the country involves people with deep fissures and mistrust, prejudices, and biases based on caste, religion, etc.
  • No database to analyze trends: As per the Ministry of Home Affairs, there is no record-keeping on public lynchings. Thus, making it difficult to draw conclusions and possible solutions to the problem. Further, in the recently released NCRB report for the year 2017, the data collected under the sub-heads of mob lynching, killed ordered by Khap Panchayat and murder committed for religious reasons has been omitted.
  • Cattle Protection Laws: In certain state laws, there is a shifting of the burden of proof on victims and consequently a presumption of guilt, which leads to filing of cases against the victims only. It leads to the criminalization of certain professions such as that transporters, butchers, and leatherworkers, and the process itself ends up being the punishment in most cases.

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Legal provisions on mob lynching in India

  • Section 223(a) of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973 contains the provision for persons being charged for an offense jointly when they are accused of the same offense committed in the course of the same transaction which is applicable to two or more people.
  • The Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860 also has some proximate sections related to hate speech and hate crimes under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 153B (imputation, assertions prejudicial to national integration). 

  • Section 34 of the Indian Penal Code provides punishment for acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention, where each person is equally liable for the act.
  • Section 120B (criminal conspiracy), 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting armed with deadly weapons) and 143/149 (unlawful assembly) of the Indian Penal Code are some other provisions related to offenses against public tranquillity.
  • Punishment for lynching may come under Section 302 (murder), 304(culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 307 (attempt to murder) etc.

Every time there is a case of honor killing, hate crimes, witch hunting or mob lynching we raise demands for special legislation to deal with these crimes. But, the fact is that these crimes are nothing but murders and the existing provisions under IPC and CrPC are sufficient to deal with such crimes. Coupled with the guidelines laid down in Poonawala’s case, we are sufficiently equipped to deal with mob lynching. However, what we lack is due enforcement of the existing laws and accountability of the enforcement agencies.

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Attempts by various states in this regard:

  • Manipur government came up first with its Bill against lynching in 2018, incorporating some logical and relevant clauses.
  • Rajasthan government passed a bill against lynching in August 2019. 
  • West Bengal too came up with a more stringent Bill against lynching.

Supreme Court issued directions on the preventive, remedial, and punitive measures to be adopted by the central and the state governments. 

  • The state governments shall designate a senior police officer in each district for taking measures to prevent incidents of mob violence and lynching.
  • The state governments shall immediately identify districts, sub-divisions, and villages where instances of lynching and mob violence have been reported in the recent past.
  • The nodal officers shall bring to the notice of the DGP any inter-district coordination issues for devising a strategy to tackle lynching and mob violence-related issues.
  • It shall be the duty of every police officer to cause a mob to disperse, which, in his opinion, has a tendency to cause violence in the disguise of vigilantism or otherwise
  • Central and state governments should broadcast on radio and television and other media platforms including the official websites that lynching and mob violence shall invite serious consequences.
  • Curb and stop the dissemination of irresponsible and explosive messages, videos, and other material on various social media platforms. Register FIR under relevant provisions of law against persons who disseminate such messages. 
  • Ensure that there is no further harassment of the family members of the victims.
  • State governments shall prepare a lynching/mob violence victim compensation scheme.
  • Cases of lynching and mob violence shall be specifically tried by designated court/fast track courts earmarked for that purpose in each district. The trial shall preferably be concluded within six months.
  • To set a stern example in cases of mob violence and lynching, the trial court must ordinarily award the maximum sentence upon conviction of the accused person.
  • If it is found that a police officer or an officer of the district administration has failed to fulfill his duty, it will be considered an act of deliberate negligence.

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There is no codified law for mob violence and lynching, which gives an upper hand to the perpetrators to take law into their own hands and kill an alleged person on mere suspicion. Killing someone on suspicion is not justified at all. Strict laws to curb mob lynching are the need of the hour, for a democratic country like India, which is a home to different religions, castes, and classes of people. A new law will bring change in the legal system and political minds which shall lead to the prevention of this heinous crime. Lynching has become a social menace all across India, therefore the center should come up with a law to deal with it. 

The law should incorporate the following provisions:

It should be applicable to all hate crimes, not just lynching (for example honor killing), regardless of the number of persons who participate. Since the essence of what distinguishes these kinds of crimes is not the number of attackers but the motivation of hate behind the crimes, therefore, the law should make provisions dealing with solitary hate crimes.

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