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Mob Violence is an Attack on the Very Roots of a Civilized Society-- ESSAY WRITING.


Mob Violence is an Attack on the Very Roots of a Civilized Society


Mob violence is a term used to describe the acts of targeted violence by a large group of people. The violence is tantamount to offences against human body or property – both public as well as private. The mob believes that they are punishing the victim for doing something wrong (not necessarily illegal) and they take the law in to their own hands to punish the purported accused without following any rules of law. Aptly referred to by the Supreme Court as a ‘horrendous act of mobocracy’, mob violence has a pattern and a motive. More often than not, innocent people are targeted on the basis of some rumour, misinformation or suspicion.

In July, 2017, the Supreme Court, while pronouncing its judgement in the case of Tahseen S. Poonawala Vs. Union of India, had laid down several preventive, remedial and punitive measures to deal with lynching and mob violence. States were directed to set up designated fast track courts in every district to exclusively deal with cases involving mob violence. The court had also mooted the setting up of a special task force with the objective of procuring intelligence reports about the people involved in spreading hate speeches, provocative statements and fake news which could lead to mob violence. Directions were also issued to set up victim compensation schemes for relief and rehabilitation of victims. A year later, in July 2019, The Supreme Court issued notices to the Centre and several states asking them to submit the steps taken by them towards implementing the measures and file compliance reports. As of now, only three states-Manipur, West Bengal and Rajasthan have enacted laws against mob lynching.

Mob violence stems from the perverse notion of vigilantism. Law is the mightiest sovereign in a civilized society. The majesty of law cannot be sullied just because an individual or a group generates the attitude that they have been empowered by the principles set out in laws to take its enforcement into their own hands and gradually become law unto themselves and punish the violator on their own assumption and in the manner in which they deem fit [Krishnamoorthy V Sivakumar and others (2015)].

India has been witnessing an unusual increase in crimes related to mob violence, under the garb of religion, tradition, child lifting etc. One of the strangest reasons for lynching today is cow slaughter, cattle smuggling or consumption of beef.

These acts of violence involve self-constituted counts, where the mob holds the trial and imposes the punishment and sentence on a person based on the laws formed by the mob. The very concept of Salva judum revolves around channelizing the potential of such groups for the benefit of people themselves. It was used to spread anti-naxal propaganda. However, several factors led to its failure. One such factor was that the trials which constituted these Salva Judum had a lot of conflicts among themselves due to which the villagers were being hurt. There were many cases of human rights violations against these state-backed militias ranging from mass-scale genocides to burning down the entire villages.

Therefore, the responsibility of administration of law and justice cannot be given to a group of people who can never judge or manage any case properly and professionally. This can be due to the group psyche of that specific mob which is affected by many factors like existing stereo types towards a specific community or a group of the society.

American cultural psychologist Carl Ratner and social psychologist Erich Fromm analysed pathological normalcy that is unhealthy psychological states and behaviours, which appear so commonly in society that they come to be regarded as the norm. Pathological normalcy can also be understood as the pathological processes that become so socially interspread that they lose their individual character and come to be regarded as common and acceptable. Disturbed or unhealthy behaviour such as display of irrational hatred or support of violence becomes very common and such persons find much to share with many other individuals having a similarly unhealthy mentality. In this situation of an unhealthy herd mentality, the fully sane and objective people may find themselves in a relative minority and may even feel isolated. These disturbed psychosocial conditions provide highly fertile ground for emergence of extreme incidents like mob violence. Normal forms of pathology – such as widespread discrimination and hatred against particular groups, a diffuse but powerful sense of rage without logical basis, tolerance to violence – always surround and underlie abnormal extreme forms of pathology like mob violence.

In the case of recent wave of mob violence across India, a combination of socio-economic, political and psychological factors have created a situation of hyper reactivity among large sections of population, especially in rural areas and small towns.

These factors include large-scale, deep discontent and anger in rural populations, especially among youth due to the worsening crisis of agriculture and blocked employment opportunities. To add to this, political interests have cultivated an atmosphere of morbid suspicion and hatred towards religious minorities and people perceived as outsiders, which has been aggressively propagated through the social media. Another factor is the withdrawal of the welfare state where beneficial public services and entitlements such as public healthcare and education have been weakened. At the same time, the state has emerged as an alienated ‘surveillance state’. Both these changes seem to be contributing to loss of trust in the state and has given rise to public perception of the state being external and unwanted.

This in turn has induced groups to take law and order into their hands. In the situation, behaviours that are widespread and considered ‘normal’ are no longer equivalent to being healthy and such pathological normalcy provides conditions for corruption of recurrent apparently irrational mob violence. Fortunately, there are powerful counter tendencies which are standing up for a different idea of India, voices of humanity and sanity across the country. Drawing strength from these countering forces, we recognize the major peril and will defeat it at all levels, before it consumes us as a civilized society.

The Hindi poet Sachchidanand Hiranand Vatsyayan ‘Agyeya’ was witness to the insane bloodletting in Punjab during partition. Overcome by regret and disbelief, on October 24, 1947, he wrote : who knows what violent dread has stunned the country. Awareness of our common culture and of our great civilization has withered. An epileptic fit has extinguished autonomy of the will. Collective life in India has been marked by the rise of vigilantism which maims, murders and wounds on the slightest pretext. On June 18, 2019, in Jharkhand, a mob assaulted Tabrez Ansari, on suspicion of theft. People have been lynched because they transport cows, because WhatsApp messages spread rumours that child lifters are around, because people appear suspicious and simply because they are different : a mentally challenged person here, a disoriented woman there. Between May 10, 2018 and July 2, 2018, frenzied mobs killed people in 16 different incidents because unsubstantiated WhatsApp posts warned that they might be child-lifters. When the capacity of civil society organisations to mount protest against violence is neutralized by state power, and when institutions and laws that possess the capacity to protect citizens are subordinated to problematic ideologies, the rights of citizens are violated with impurity, often by the police, often by mobs dispensing vigilante justice. But the state is silent.

At first sight, violence appears to be a anomaly in a democracy. Why should groups pick up weapons, or support those who do so, when they have the democratic right to question injustice and renegotiate justice, in and through campaigns in civil society and through their representatives in Parliament. The route that violence takes is unpredictable and dangerous; it generates fear and resentment.

“Each new morn” says Macduff of war in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, “New widows howl, new orphans cry, new sorrows strike heaven on the face, that it resounds.” And yet in our democracy, the government, powerful groups, or even the victims of injustice and resentment, opt for ‘new sorrows’ that strike heaven in the face.

In a civilized society, even one instance of mob violence is too mach. Mob violence often justified as vigilantism, has a sinister basis. It be speaks lawlessness that derives strength from the absence of governance. In a democratic society like India, it bespeaks a state that condones violence. Mob violence, at times, is part of a pattern rooted in a culture of identity based competition over resources and social domination. The biggest problem with mob violence is that one does not know where to place the blame. Shall we place the blame on the whole crowd? Or only the person that struck the death blow? Can we possibly lay the blame on witnesses and bystanders who rejoiced in the event? Or shall we lay the blame completely at the feet of the state for failing to discharge its duty?


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