Pehlu Khan, a Muslim, was lynched by Hindu criminals, professing to be cow vigilantes. The incident fills one with grief and anger. Around the same time, Farook, a Muslim atheist in Coimbatore, was lynched by Muslim criminals, claiming to be true believers.
Search deeper and you will find the case of a Hindu doctor lynched by a mainly Muslim mob, over a cricket dispute. Hindu rail passengers lynched a Muslim youth, in what began as a dispute over seats.A Dalit man was beaten brutally and nearly killed by a Muslim mob because his son fell in love with a Muslim girl. There was a case of tribal vigilantes, lynching both Hindus and Muslims because they suspected them of being child traffickers. And this is only in the recent past.
All these cases are horrifying. And all of them reveal patterns. But sadly, many in the public debate space only find patterns which validate their biases. Therefore, many leftists cherry-pick cases where the criminals are Hindu upper castes, and the victims Muslims or Dalits; and then build a narrative of recent Hindu majoritarianism ripping India apart. Events involving cows get particular attention; with a byline that Hindus value cows more than humans.
The right-wing likes to pick cases where the criminals are Muslim, and the victims can be anyone else (Hindu upper castes, Hindu Dalits, Muslim atheists, etc), and then build a narrative of Muslims being inherently violent. Some have even given a communal colour to the horrific Delhi gang rape case, since the victim was Hindu, all the rapists caught and punished with the death penalty were Hindu, but the juvenile who got away was a Muslim.
Interestingly, when both Hindus and Muslims are victims, the events are usually ignored. When other animals, besides cows, are involved (lynchings happen over goats as well; crimes involving animals form a significant portion of property crimes in rural India), it does not excite interest.
Some may refuse to buy the biased left-wing and right-wing narratives and prefer to examine the lynching data in India with an open mind. They may not want to use these terrible incidents to score political or conversational points. They may actually want these lynchings to stop. What should they do?
The answer is obvious. Mob violence and vigilantism happens because the criminals expect to get away with it. Many victims don’t complain because they don’t expect justice to be done. And this happens because our criminal justice system is horribly inefficient.
According to government data, there are more than three crore cases pending in our judicial system. Justice VV Rao of Andhra Pradesh high court had said that at the normal rate of dispersal, it will take 320 years to clear the backlog in our courts! India is amongst the 10 worst countries in the world in terms of the percentage of undertrials as a proportion of total prisoners.
It was naively believed that a few high-profile convictions would lead to a tipping point. For example, the Jessica Lal case was supposed to suddenly put the fear of the law into the powerful. While justice was done in the Jessica Lal case, did things change at a systemic level? More than a decade later, we must admit the obvious: Nothing has changed. Many unfortunate people, who can’t possibly be tracked by TV studios in Mumbai and Delhi, continue to suffer systemic apathy.
This situation has led to the corruption of our society. Why do the disempowered vote for criminals and strongmen? Because they know that they will not get justice in a gummed up judicial system. So, the practical thing to do is to elect a strongman from your community and expect him/her to use political power to protect you.
Why are encounters tolerated by our society? For the State to take away life without due process is a moral corruption that is not worthy of a civilised society. But encounters have been occurring in India since the 1960s, when efforts were made to control the Chambal valley dacoits. Thousands of criminals, and perhaps many innocents, have lost their lives.
Yet, many encounter cops are celebrated in blockbuster films. Why? Because the common Indian sees this as a pragmatic way to maintain order, especially when crime or terrorism reaches unbearable limits. Encounters are only opposed, selectively, when it suits someone’s political agenda.
The only long-term solution is a clean-up of the criminal justice system. Police reforms (as ordered by the Supreme Court in 2006) must be implemented to give the force autonomy from political interference, better-trained and more manpower, and modern weapons.
We must invest in more competent prosecutor systems, which ensure that police investigation is converted into proper charge sheets and professional arguments in court which lead to convictions. We desperately need more judges. Court records must be digitised (we can use reCaptcha techniques here) and court procedures computerised, so that the time wastage of witnesses, lawyers and judges is reduced. Date delays must be stopped. Judges should stop wasting time on frivolous PILs.
I know that arguing, even fighting, for these reforms, does not make for an exciting TV debate or a grandstanding op-ed. But if you actually want mob violence and lynchings to stop, this is perhaps the only way to ensure it.