Need Law to Stop India Turning into Republic of 'Lyncherdom', Says UP Law Commission

'Merely lip service is not the solution of the problem. It is high time to take strict action against the so called ‘Gau Rakshak’, the commission said in a report it has submitted to the Adityanath government.

Lucknow: The Uttar Pradesh Law Commission has waded into the politically sensitive debate over mob lynching – including scores of incidents where the “perpetrators appear to be in sync with the political regime of the day” – by calling upon the state government to adopt a draft law to combat the menace.

Earlier this week, commission chairman Justice A.N. Mittal submitted a report on mob lynching, along with a draft Bill, to chief minister Yogi Adityanath.

The report was not in response to a request from the government but an initiative of the commission itself.

The 128-page report cited various cases of lynching in the state and recommended the immediate enactment of a law as per recommendations made by the Supreme Court in 2018.

The commission said existing laws to combat lynchings were not sufficient and asserted that there should be a separate law to tackle them. It has suggested punishments ranging from seven years in jail to life imprisonment for the offence, as well as imprisonment for a year for any policeman or bureaucrat who fails to prevent incidents of lynching in their jurisdiction.

“I would like to appreciate that our prime minister has spoken something [against cow vigilantes] after the silent protest ‘Not in My Name’ throughout India and even abroad. But merely lip service is not the solution of the problem. It is high time to take strict action against the so called ‘Gau Rakshak’,” Justice Mittal wrote in his hard-hitting introduction to the report.

Speaking to The Wire, Justice Mittal said that the state’s home ministry will now study the report and take a decision on the necessity to enact a law to tackle mob lynchings.

In his introduction to the report, Justice Mittal noted:

“One of the most stringing descriptions of the dangers of mob violence was Mark Twain’s response to a racial lynching in Missouri in 1901. He saw in it the danger of America turning into ‘United States of Lyncherdom’. The secular Republic of India more than a century later, appears to be amidst the shadow of a similar fear.”

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The report suggests that the special law may be called the Uttar Pradesh Combating of Mob Lynching Act. The commission has specified the responsibilities of police officers and district magistrates, spelling out the punishment for failing in their duty.

The panel said the law should also provide for compensation to the family of the victim for grievous injury or loss of life and property. There should also be provisions for the rehabilitation of the victims and their families, it added.

As per the available data from 2012 to 2019, 50 incidents of mob violence have taken place in the state. Of around 50 victims, eleven died, while 25 were cases of a major assault, including those by cow vigilantes.

“In the backdrop of this situation, the commission took up the study suo motu and accordingly recommended the state government the need for having a comprehensive law to combat lynching,” law commission secretary Sapna Tripathi told PTI on Thursday.

It is important to recollect here that the Supreme Court had in July 2018 issued a series of remedial and punitive measures to the Centre and state governments to curb mob lynching, demanding them to be implemented within four weeks.

Noting that “mobocracy cannot be allowed in democracy”, the court had asked the governments to ensure that law and order is maintained. It had recommended the governments to enact a law that specifically addresses cases of lynching.

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The UP Law Commission’s report said only Manipur has made a special law against lynchings and, as per media reports, the Madhya Pradesh government is soon going to enact it. It has also referred to anti-mob lynching laws in countries such as South Africa and Nigeria.

It referred to various cases of lynching and mob violence in the state, including the 2015 killing of Mohammed Akhlaq in Dadri on suspicion of beef consumption. The lynching of Akhlaq was one of the first to receive national attention, spurning a debate on rising cow vigilantism in the country.

Mohammad Akhlaq. Credit: Twitter

The report noted that though debates on media cite that a majority of the victims of mob violence are Muslims, there was no data available with the commission to verify it. “The Commission is not in a position to comment on the data,” it says.

Speaking to The Wire, Justice Mittal said that a large proportion of the mob lynching incidents are perpetrated by gau rakshaks. He said this is true not just of Uttar Pradesh, but across the country. “However, mob lynching has also been reported on the suspicion of child kidnapping, theft and inter-religious marriages,” he said.

The commission mentioned the killing of Inspector Subodh Singh on December 3, 2018, in a clash between police and Hindutva groups in Bulandshahr after cattle carcasses were found in a field.

The chairman noted that mobs were now turning on police as well.

“Incidents of mob violence have taken place in districts of Farukkhabad, Unnao, Kanpur, Hapur and Muzaffarnagar. Police are also becoming victims as people have started thinking of them as their enemy,” Mittal said in the report.

“The killing of a head constable in Ghazipur and a jail warden are examples of this,” he said.

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The panel studied laws of different countries and states, and decisions of the Supreme Court while preparing the draft legislation.

It suggested punishment for conspiracy, aid or abetment in such cases, as well as for obstructing the legal process.

The draft Bill also suggests measures to prevent mob lynching, while also suggesting punitive measures to be taken against public officials who have failed to perform their duties and prevent mob lynching.

To hasten the trial process, the report suggests that cases of mob lynching should be assigned to designated judges, who should conduct the trial on a priority basis.