Surrendering to the Mob

ABVP members protest against the release of  the juvenile convict in the Nirbhaya case,  at Jantar Mantar, in New Delhi on Monday.  Credit: PTI Photo by Kamal Kishore

ABVP members protest against the release of the juvenile convict in the Nirbhaya case, at Jantar Mantar, in New Delhi on Monday. Credit: PTI Photo by Kamal Kishore

While Parliament was well within its rights to pass the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Bill, 2014 on December 22, the manner in which it was done is objectionable.

I regret to say that the law was passed under the pressure of mass hysteria, duly whipped up by the media, with mass demonstrations in many places. It reminds one of Parliament’s surrender before Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption, and his mass meetings at theRam Leela ground in the Capital where he shouted “Inquilab Zindabad, Bharat Mata ki jai, and Vande Mataram” and frenzied mobs went around Delhi to demonstrate before, and even surround, the houses of important state functionaries.

The passing of the Juvenile Justice amendment in a similarly surcharged atmosphere with crowds howling and screaming outside Parliament has no doubt appeased the mob. But whether bills should be passed under such pressure, or in a cool atmosphere, is a moot question which I ask.

Appeasement is always a very dangerous way of functioning, as the Munich Conference of 1938 demonstrated, and appeasement of the mob, I respectfully submit, is no way for Parliament to function.

One is reminded of the Moscow governor Rostopchin during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812, as depicted in Tolstoy’s War and Peace, who handed over Vereshchagin to the mob which tore him apart, or of the mob in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar  which hanged Cinna the poet for his alleged bad verses only because he had the same name as Cinna the conspirator, or the mob present before the Paris Revolutionary Tribunal thirsty for the blood of Charles Darnay in Dickens’s Tale of Two Cities. One may also recall that in ancient Rome, unscrupulous powerful and rich politicians like Crassus and Caesar used the mob to win elections and control Rome.

This dangerous precedent having been established, what prevents the mob from going further in the times to come? One may recall the action of the Paris mob on June 2, 1793 which surrounded the French National Convention demanding the expulsion and arrest of 22 Girondins, who were members of the Convention – and the Convention’s decision to surrender before the mob by handing over the Girondins, who were later guillotined. I only hope things do not come to this pass in India, but it is time for parliamentarians to seriously introspect before it is too late.

I respectfully submit that in their hurry to pass the JJ bill, several important considerations were overlooked.

While there are several theories of punishment (retributive, deterrent, preventive, etc ) modern penology lays more emphasis on reformation. Statistics have revealed that young people below 18 years of age who commit crimes usually come from poor families, and are often uneducated. Long years of imprisonment will only turn them into hardened criminals by the time they come out of jail. This aspect, requiring serious deliberation, was unfortunately overlooked in parliament’s zeal to pass the bill and short-circuit further cool debate.

Vox Populi, Vox Dei sounds very good in theory, but it has a tendency to degenerate into mobocracy. Rational debates in parliament cannot be conducted in a surcharged atmosphere or as a knee jerk reaction to mob pressure if the interests of the nation are to be served.

Markandey Katju is a former judge of the Supreme Court of India

  • Chandrashekara Krishnappa

    The mob inside reacted to the mob outside. Period.