The SC has ordered to enact a new law to take on mobocracy, but is it enough?

In light of the Supreme Court’s “mobocracy” verdict, Newslaundry looks at the data available and status of four such lynching cases which shook the country.

ByAmit Bhardwaj
The SC has ordered to enact a new law to take on mobocracy, but is it enough?
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So far, the Central and state governments have had an ostrich approach towards the increasing trend of mob lynching in the country. Even more bizarre is the attitude of a few Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders—including ministers in several states—where they went on to defend these acts of mob “justice”. Remember Rajasthan minister Gulab Chand Kataria’s comments right after Pehlu Khan was lynched. The latest badge of honour was Union Minister Jayant Sinha’s act of garlanding the convicts in the murder of Alimuddin Ansari in Jharkhand.

BJP-led governments have been living in denial as far as mob lynching cases are concerned. So much so that despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s critical comments on self-proclaimed cow vigilantes, the attacks in the name of protecting cows have not stopped.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday, condemning the lynching cases, said, “The horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be permitted to inundate the law of the land.” It said the “recurrent pattern of violence” cannot be allowed to become “the new normal”. “The State cannot turn a deaf ear to the growing rumblings of its People, since its concern, to quote Woodrow Wilson, ‘must ring with the voices of the people’.”

The three-judge bench of AM Khanwilkar, DY Chandrachud, headed by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra, asked Parliament to enact a new law to punish those involved in lynchings. It passed its judgment on a string of writ petitions filed by Congress leader Tehseen Poonawalla and Tushar Gandhi, the great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi.

The bench said, “…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 civilised society.”

The bench also ordered the Centre and state governments to submit a report within four weeks on “preventive, punitive and remedial measures” taken to deal with these cases.

Only time will tell whether the governing BJP has the political will to enact a law to penalise lynching, but the action of the police mechanism and the system puts the saffron party in a bad light.

The numbers indicate towards the rising trend of mob lynching. Data compiled by India Spend shows the alarming increase in cow-related violence in the country. According to the site, in 2014, only three cases of cow-related violence were reported across the country. In 2015, 2016 and 2017, 12, 24 and 37 such cases were reported respectively. Eight cases have been reported by June 2018 alone. A total of 284 persons have fallen victim to such attacks from 2014 onward, and 33 lost their lives.

The Quint has also set a tracker to compile data. Titled “Hunted: India’s Lynch files”, it specifically tracks cases of mob violence across India since 2015. According to the tracker, 65 people have been killed in mob lynching cases—including, among others, cow vigilantism.

Let’s revisit four cases which took place in states where the BJP is now the governing party: the 2015 mob lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in the name of beef; Pehlu Khan’s lynching on camera in Rajasthan; 16-year-old Junaid, who was killed in broad daylight in a moving local train; and the Ramgarh lynching case, which had the first ever conviction in a cow vigilantism case since 2014.

Akhlaq: charges yet to be framed against the accused

Uttar Pradesh’s Bisada village became the catchphrase to define the fanaticism around cow vigilantism. In September 2015, an irate Hindu mob lynched 51-year-old Mohammad Akhlaq and his son Danish for allegedly slaughtering a calf and storing beef in his fridge at home. He later died from his injuries, while Danish survived. His advocate Yusuf Saifi told Newslaundry that almost three years after the incident, the court is yet to frame charges against the 18 accused in the case.

Akhlaq’s case is in a fast track court and all the accused are out on bail. The 19th accused in the case, Ravin Sisodia, died in custody in October 2016 and was given a martyr’s funeral. Reportedly, the local BJP MLA Tejpal Singh Nagar had been trying to ensure that the accused persons get jobs through private firms at Dadri’s National Thermal Power Corporation plant.

“The charges have not been framed against the 18 accused, despite the police filing the chargesheet two years back itself,” Yusuf Saifi told Newslaundry. “The advocates of the accused persons have been putting forward several applications in front of the fast track court judge, delaying the process.”

He added, “But the judge, Shivani Jaiswal, has given the last opportunity to the advocates of the accused persons, and clearly said that now, no applications will be entertained by accused in the case. Most likely, the charges should be framed on August 2, the next hearing date.”

Pehlu Khan: the police filed a weak case in favour of the accused

On April 1, 2017, 55-year-old dairy farmer Pehlu Khan was lynched in front of 200 people in Rajasthan’s Alwar district. The act was caught on camera. Two days later, on April 3, Khan succumbed to his injuries in the hospital. In his dying statement, he named six accused, none of whom were arrested as they were absconding.

Meanwhile, the minister responsible for the law and order situation in the state came up with a shocker. Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria of the BJP accused Khan of being cattle smuggler. Kataria claimed Khan had three cases against him. 

In the chargesheet filed in May 2017 in the Behror court, the police claimed to have found evidence against Jagmal Yadav and five others named by Khan in his dying statement. However, the police absolved them. What made the evidence so weak that the police decided to absolve them even before the trial began? Read the lacunae pointed out by journalist Ajit Sahi in his report here.

Irshad Khan, Pehlu Khan’s eldest son and an eyewitness, had told Newslaundry last October, “The ministers like Gulab Chand Kataria and [Gyan Dev] Ahuja have been making statements which favour those involved in the case. This case should be re-investigated under the court’s observation. We don’t trust the police’s report.” The family wanted “the case to be shifted to the Supreme Court”.

Junaid: except one, all accused out on bail

On June 22, 2017, 16-year-old Hafiz Junaid Khan was knifed to death in a moving Mathura-bound local train, in front of people—but no one attempted to stop the hate crime. His brothers, Shaqir Khan, 23, and Hashim Khan, 20, were attacked by the same mob. They were called “kattle, Mullah (circumcised, Muslim)”, “deshdrohi (anti-national)”, and “Pakistani” as the assault took place. The three brothers were thrown out at Ballabhgarh station in Haryana. 

Six accused—Naresh Kumar, Ramesh Kumar, Rameshwar Dass, Pardeep Kumar, Chander Parkash and Gaurav Sharma—were arrested by the police on charges of murder. A year after the incident, five of the six accused in the case are already out on bail.  

“When the accused were presented in the court, all were facing murder charges,” Junaid’s family advocate, Nibrash Ahmed, told Newslaundry. “But later the police, displaying a lax attitude, removed the sections of murder against four [of the] accused and booked them under comparatively weaker sections. Only Naresh and Rameshwar Dass were booked under the section of murder.”

Ahmed said this act by the police enabled the four accused to easily get bail. Naresh Kumar is still in judicial custody, and Dass was granted bail by the Punjab and Haryana High Court in March.

Junaid’s father Jalaluddin Khan approached the high court and later the Supreme Court, pleading that the case be transferred to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The Supreme Court has stopped the trial case proceedings, and has asked the state of Haryana and the CBI regarding the transfer of the case.

 The family has enough reason to doubt the legal proceedings in Haryana. Additional Advocate General (AAG) of Haryana, Naveen Kaushik, was pulled up by the court: he was accused of assisting the defence counsel in the trial proceedings.

Ahmed said the Supreme Court’s order on mob lynching is promising for the Junaid case, especially in the light of the goof-ups under pressure by investigative agencies.

“The investigative agency, under local and political pressure, botched up the investigation and tried to weaken the case against the accused persons by removing the murder charges even before the chargesheet was filed,” Ahmed said. “Why did they remove the charges against four of the six accused when there was clear prima facie evidence them?”

Alimuddin Ansari: Union Minister Jayant Sinha garlands convicts

The first-of-its-kind decision by the fast track court in Jharkhand’s Ramgarh district, in the Alimuddin Ansari lynching case, came as a ray of hope. In March, all 11 convicts were given life-term punishments, including the BJP’s district media cell in-charge Nityanand Mahato.

Ansari was lynched in public view on June 29, 2017, over allegations that he was carrying beef (cow meat) in his car. The police had chargesheeted 12 people—of whom one was a minor, one a BJP leader, and three were members of a cow vigilante group.

But Union Minister Jayant Sinha, by the simple act of garlanding eight of the 11 convicts, dented the entire legal victory and public perception about these cases. Sinha later regretted his act i“an impression has gone out” that he supports vigilantism.

When we go through these cases, the role of investigative agencies, political leaders, and even ministers indicates a larger problem which might be encouraging mobs to run amok. In situations like this, the pertinent question raised is: can enacting a new law and bringing in fast track courts deter mobs from taking the law into their hands?  

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