The lynching of three people, alleged cattle thieves suspected to be Bangladeshi nationals, in southern Assam’s Karimganj district on July 18 was the second such disturbing incident in recent weeks in the area. On June 1, a 43-year-old Bangladeshi national was lynched in Putni Tea Estate situated about 3 km from the India-Bangladesh border. According to reports, the district police are trying to hand over the bodies to the Bangladeshi authorities. Irrespective of whether they are thieves or smugglers, such killings point to a lack of faith in the rule of law, leading to a general lawlessness. According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s 2017 data which was released in October 2019 a year behind schedule, Assam has one of the highest crime rates in the country. The State had 143 registered crimes per lakh of population, but such numbers can often be misleading due to the arbitrariness in the registration of crimes. The varying standards of prosecution of crimes across the country add further challenges to the rule of law. Anecdotal trends suggest a spike in mob lynchings in recent years, often incited by malicious dissemination of false accusations of cow slaughter, kidnapping of children and theft, through social media.
The NCRB did collect data on lynchings in 2017 but did not publish those for reasons best known to it. In 2019 there was also a controversy over the usage of the word ‘lynching’, after RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat termed it as an attempt to defame India. Wild conspiracy theories spread fast on social media, but one cannot overlook the context of polarising diatribes, often initiated by political leaders, related to cow protection, movement of people across the border and religious issues. The victims are invariably from vulnerable groups. Whatever name one calls it by, lynchings are an abomination that must have no place in a democratic society, which India prides itself to be. Lynchings are a uniquely unsettling derailment of governance — while an act of mob violence is itself a sign of failure of law enforcement, it is committed in an apparent consideration that there can be no legal recourse. In a pathological subversion of principles, the police inaction in cases of mob violence is reciprocated by an apparent public sanction of extrajudicial punishments by the police. All this bodes ill for the country. Mob violence indeed defames the country and there must be stringent intervention by the police to bring an end to this. The political leadership also has a role to play in questioning the social consent that allows mob violence.