When law fails, mobs take over

Photographs of a public lynching in Nagaland’s largest city, Dimapur, on Thursday, that have been swirling all over social media, are a grim reminder of the barbarity that lurks beneath the potato skin of civilisation as we know it in these troubled times. The shocking pictures tell us many stories, including how dangerously close we as a nation are to the precipice of frightening lawlessness.

First, the facts as they have emerged till Friday evening. Last month a complaint was lodged with the police, accusing Syed Farid Khan of raping a Naga woman (of whom few details are known at the moment) several times. That was on February 23. Khan, a 35-year-old migrant from Assam (reports say he was a Bengali-speaking Muslim) was a dealer in old cars.

Security personnel near a vehicle that was torched by a mob during a mass protest where they pulled out a rape accused from a district jail and lynched him in Dimapur, Nagaland, on Thursday. Pic/PTI
Security personnel near a vehicle that was torched by a mob during a mass protest where they pulled out a rape accused from a district jail and lynched him in Dimapur, Nagaland, on Thursday. Pic/PTI

In local media reports Khan was described as an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh. That further fuelled popular outrage which was tapped into by Naga Students’ Federation and Naga Women Hoho, both of which have a mass base. On Wednesday the two organisations called for a bandh to protest the alleged rape of a Naga woman and press for “stern action” against the accused man.

To drive home their point, the protesters ransacked shops owned by ‘outsiders’. To control the rapidly deteriorating situation, the administration imposed Section 144 prohibiting crowds from gathering. But that had no impact whatsoever in restoring calm.

On Thursday, crowds gathered and marched to the Dimapur Municipal Council, where they demanded that trade licences given to ‘Bengali-speaking Muslims’ should be cancelled. Next the mob, which had now swollen to several thousand protesters, stormed the central jail, overcame the token resistance put up by the prison guards, and dragged Khan to the street.

Their intention was to hold a public trial (for which an open truck had been organised to serve as a dais) and then execute the alleged rapist by hanging him from Dimapur’s historic landmark, the Clock Tower. The lynch mob didn’t quite stick to the plan. Khan was stripped, kicked and beaten. By the time he was dragged to the Clock Tower by a motorcyclist, he was dead.

Nevertheless his limp, bloodied body with the face smashed in, was strung up as the frenzied mob jostled to record the ‘punishment’ on cell phones. Khan, stripped of clothes, life and dignity, was displayed on the Clock Tower like a trophy. It was at once an act of defiance by the masses, taunting the law of the land, and a meek acceptance by the Indian state that it has failed.

Make that miserably, colossally and unquestionably failed. Anything less than that would be a travesty of the truth. For the state has allowed the criminal justice system to crumble and wither away, eroding people’s faith in the courts and make our robustly worded laws appear enfeebled and paraplegic.

When courts allow hundreds of thousands of cases to pile up, when judges elect to give precedence to IPL over IPC, when hearings are put on hold to facilitate bail for high profile activists ironically on the run from the law, when fast track hearings are turned into a farce as in the infamous Delhi gangrape trial, when rapists are let out on bail to rape again, you make a mockery of the very concept of justice.

Perfectly law-abiding citizens turn into vigilantes and endorse kangaroo courts and cheer the meting out of mob punishment, as they did in Dimapur, when the belief that courts will not deliver justice strikes root. The state’s abysmal failure becomes the cloak of legitimacy for that which is patently illegal and unacceptable in a civilised society.

Those of us who have read Mario Puzo’s ‘Godfather’ or watched the eponymous film would recall how the mafia secured popular legitimacy. Similarly, we will now witness mobs securing legitimacy in the wondrous land of ours where justices of the Supreme Court appear to have convinced themselves that fixing cricket administration is of paramount pressing concern for more than a billion people.

Cry, my beloved country.

The writer is a senior journalist based in the National Capital Region. His Twitter handle is @KanchanGupta

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4 Comments

  • Poor_Geography07-Mar-2015

    FYI, the capital of Nagaland is Kohima. Dimapur is the biggest town/city in Nagaland though.

  • Sunny07-Mar-2015

    In India, justice to a common man is not so easy, he has to wait for decades to get the verdict. Even after years it is not guaranteed that he will get justice. Our law systems should be changed first.

  • A P Agrawal07-Mar-2015

    The year 1998 - the place Indian Institute of Public Administration - the occasion workshop for Legal advisors in the Ministry of Law and Justice. The speaker put a question "what will happen if the delays in the justice system continue" One and the only answer was that people will lose faith in the system and take it to themselves. The answerist was me. The state has failed to deliver the justice system and the people have started taking it to themselves. Now the state will try the citizenry.

  • T P HARI PRASAD07-Mar-2015

    WHEN THE MEDIA, DOING ALL THESE ALLEGATIONS MADE OUT AGAINST THE MOB, WAS BUSY CONDUCTING THE KANGAROO TRIALS, I DID NOT FIND ANY SUCH ALLEGATIONS. KINDLY REFLECT ON ALL THOSE MEDIA TRIALS, OF SASHI THAROOR, AND OF WHICHEVER ITEM THEY COULD INCREASE THEIR TRP.CAN YOU HONESTLY DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN THE ACTIONS OF THIS MOB AND THOSE OF PAPIRAZZI?I STRONGLY FEEL THAT THE MEDIA IS INCITING THE MOB, BY QUESTIONING EACH AND EVERY OF THE ESTABLISHED INSTITUTIONS OF THE DEMOCRACY.

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