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OPINION / ANALYSIS

Mob Justice: Disorder of the Day!

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Vishwarupa Bhattacharya
June 13, 2008

There seems to be no end to the spate of spine chilling incidents of mob violence. The alarming regularity at which such incidents are taking place leaves no doubt in the minds of the people that our country is on the verge of civil unrest. All in the name of democratic dissent, getting quick justice and a perceptible pessimism about bringing the offenders to book, people resort to vandalism, physical thrashing, killing and lynching every now and then.

One school of thought believes that the system of governance is accountable for such pessimism which fuels public anger when their valid grievances are not addressed. However, incidents of mob violence are not always in pursuit of instant justice but often are opportunities to settle scores between individuals or groups.

Resorting to violence has become the easiest way for a mob to settle a matter in their own favour as anonymity of becoming a part of the mob in such violence leads to a diffusion of responsibility for their actions and it makes it easier for them to get away with their own crime of meting out punishment to a culprit.

It has also been observed that people bay for the blood of a potentially weak opponent and become defenceless when faced with a stronger one. How else can it be explained that on the one hand petty offenders (like the chain snatcher in Bhagalpur) are mercilessly beaten up by a mob or a seemingly helpless crowd silently watches as women are paraded naked for offences as ridiculous as witchcraft, while on the other there are not even protests against offences committed by the rich and the powerful like the BMW case or the kidney scam case.

Such macabre incidents are so common these days that often they don’t even draw attention of the people or the media. As happened with the terrible incident in which a mob of around 60 people (locals) decoupled the bogie of a train in which a group of Delhi University students were travelling and tried to set it afire when students tried to resist eve-teasing.

People gloat with a sense of heroism when they take law into their hands. Even a person remotely related/affected by a crime would not mind being part of the mob and thrashing the so-called culprit without even having any inkling about the issue.

Besides, in most cases of mob violence/justice one finds enough display of opportunistic debauchery. Why is it that more often than not in such cases mob resorts to disrobing a person as a way of punishment?

What is more appalling is that in many such cases the offenders get patronage from various quarters which safely bails them out from punitive action. The so-called patrons stand by the mob in furthering their own cause. Indeed, without such patronage, it is difficult to imagine how culprits of such incidents, despite widespread condemnation and media coverage, go scot-free.

In this context it is apt to quote Prof. Dipankar Gupta: “When a riot happens it is because the killers know that no harm is going to come to them. If they had the slightest fear that they might not come home, that they might be jailed, even killed, they would never have ventured out.” The same logic stands amply proved in all cases of mob violence.

Some hold the view that these incidents have always been occurring in our society but now they appear to be on the rise only because of widespread coverage by the electronic media which was not so much earlier. However, this gives little reason for consolation. There is no denying that incidents of mob violence in our society are rampant and something urgently needs to be done before there is utter jungle raj in society.

Vishwarupa Bhattacharya is a New Delhi based freelance writer