The Supreme Court of India has specifically stated that Mob Lynching, vigilantism are crimes no matter what the motive is while also adding that it is a Law and Order issue that is the responsibility of State Governments. The Order issued on July 3, 2018, by the Three Judge Bench of the Apex Court also plans to issue guidelines to the Centre as well as all States and Union Territories on how to deal with this grisly phenomenon.
Two days later, on July 5, 2018 the Union Home Ministry has issued an Advisory to States and Union Territories (UTs) asking them to take measures to prevent incidents of mob lynching fuelled by rumours of child lifting circulating on social media, also to keep a watch for early detection of such rumours and initiate effective measures for countering them.
The SC has also stressed that whether a lynching happens as a result of cow vigilantism or because of people believe someone is a child abductor, it does not matter as Lynching is a Crime. Also putting the onus on the states to check cow vigilantism, the top court in the same Order reserved its verdict on pleas seeking directions to formulate guidelines to curb such violence, saying no one can take the Law into their hands.
It may be recalled that on September 6, 2017, the Apex Court had asked all the States to take stern measures to stop violence in the name of cow protection, including appointing of senior Police Officers as nodal officer in every district within a week and acting promptly to check cow vigilantes from behaving like they are Law unto themselves. The Supreme Court had sought responses from Rajasthan, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh governments on a plea seeking contempt action for not following its order to take stern steps to stop violence in the name of cow vigilantism.
At the same time, the Apex Court took cognizance that the Social Media rumours about Child-lifters have claimed several lives in mob lynching in Maharashtra just on July 1, 2018 (Sunday), five people were lynched- despite Police intervention by a group of men visiting Dhule village in the North Maharashgtra. According to police, there were rumours for the last few days that a gang of child lifters was active in the area.
In Tamil Nadu’s Perumampatti village in Trichy district, two men just about escaped a lynching when they were beaten up by villagers on suspicion that they were child lifters. So far, there have been 13 incidents of lynching related to rumours circulated through WhatsApp about suspected child lifters and kidnappers- resulting in the murders of 27 people, in less than two months. Fake Whatsapp messages whip up frenzies in minutes and before any sanity can prevail, innocents have been clobbered to death. Mobs are mobilised in seconds because the message reach scores at the same time, giving real - time details of the so-called suspects observed the top court.
According to the Central government, while directing all the District Administrations to identify vulnerable areas and conduct community outreach programmes for creating awareness and building confidence, the advisory had also stated that a series of similar unfortunate incidents has rocked many states, including Assam, Karbi Anglong, Karnataka, Tripura, Manipur and West Bengal, with people being beaten to death simply on suspicion of being child-lifters or thieves owing to false rumours on social media. It was also stressed that complaints of child abduction or kidnapping should be properly investigated to instil confidence among the affected persons.
The Indian government on July 3, 2018 had also asked WhatsApp to take immediate action to end the menace of spreading messages that impact the country’s Law and Order situation and ensure that the platform is not used for such malafide activities.
Again on July 6, 2018, Security personnel of the 119 Infantry Battalion (Territorial Army) received information about an incident and rescued the three men who had suffered minor injuries. Rushing to the spot, security personnel managed to rescued three men from a bloody recreation of the Karbi Anglong lynching incident after locals surrounded them in Assam’s Dima Hasao on suspicion of being child lifters. The three men, who were sadhus, were reportedly driving around Mahur in the morning when they were cornered by a mob that thought they were ‘sopadhoras’ (Assamese term for child lifters) near the railway station. The locals also rummaged through their belongings but found nothing suspicious.
The trio — two from Uttar Pradesh and one from Gujarat — was later taken to the Mahur Camp and interrogated by the force.
Meanwhile, the general masses feel that with Law and Order being the state subject; it is the District Administration that needs to be swift in dealing with such mob-violence which results in lynching, or allowing the Pressure Groups, Civil Societies, various Activist groups, who in the name of vigilantism are conducting checking, or intercepting vehicles in the name of checking influx, conducting moral policing and various such activities, which will ultimately also ends up in mob lynching.
The entry of the new media- social media has now turned into a menace, as the rumours mongers do not spare even Supreme Court Judge, as on July 4, 2018 chided an Advocate for circulating unwarranted and baseless insinuations on Social Media platform against Chief Justice of India, Dipak Misra for refusing to accede to the Lawyer’s request for early hearing of a petition. As the Advocate stood up again on the same day to make a mention for early hearing, a Bench of CJI Misra and Justice A M Khanwilkar and D Y Chandrachud took strong exception to the Lawyer’s conduct.
With such misuse of social media, one can imagine the status of the general masses, it is not that the District Administration is not keeping up surveillance, but it is not doing enough, especially in the present situation where rumours mongers are using the medium of Social Media, which can spread the information in seconds to groups who do not reason out the authenticity of the information and jump to the conclusion claiming to be custodians of society leading to such vigilantism and Mob lynching which Supreme Court has specifically said is a crime.