news Tuesday, March 10, 2015 - 05:30

Siddharth Mohan Nair | The News Minute | March 7, 2015 | 8.45 PM IST

On March 5, India witnessed a terrific mob fury. Thousands of men and women barged into the central prison in Dimapur district of Nagaland. As police officers watched on, the mob, which was clearly at an advantage in terms of sheer numbers, dragged Syed Farid Khan out of his cell. They stripped him naked and dragged him though the city's roads, stoning and abusing him all through the way, and eventually killed him. 

Syed Farid Khan was arrested on February 24, 2015 following a complaint of rape lodged by a college girl. Khan, a scrap trader, was sent to judicial custody. The Assam Chief Minister has said that he has received medical reports which say that rape wasn't even committed. Much is being said about the incident and the truth is yet to surface. What, however, led to the outrage was that there were rumours that Khan was an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant. For long, the state has been reeling under ethnic and social problems between the aboriginals and the immigrants.

What provoked the mob? Was Khan an immigrant or a local? Irrespective of all this, such acts where a group of people take law into their own hands and act with vendetta should be unequivocally condemned.

We are already witnessing instances of groups under the label of khap panchayats, moral police, etc. taking upon themselves few duties and functions of the State in matters of law and public order. What happened in Nagaland is comparable to the khaps to the extent that they feel that they are entitled to decide what is right and wrong and therefore they have the authority to award punishments and execute it. 

While a vast majority of us condemn instances of khaps or moral policing, the responses to the Nagaland mob fury has, unfortunately, not been the same. We hear a lot of voices justifying the actions of the mob.

A piece titled, “"When law fails, mobs take over,” written by senior journalist Mr Kanchan Gupta for the Mid Day takes the same line and says the action of the mob "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." The article says that "the state has allowed the criminal justice system to crumble and wither away, eroding people’s faith in the courts." 

While the author was not wrong on these, the piece almost endorsed what the mob did. "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," it said.

This reaction is not isolated. There are many out there who publicly and in private endorse what the mob in Dimapur did. Frustration, dejection and distrust in the system seems to be driving this school of thought, but all the above and more does not justify a crowd from turning into a killer mob.

By endorsing a mob, people must understand that they are doing a disservice to the public institutions of law and justice and also to the existence of the Indian State. For, by not condemning such acts and at times even justifying them citing delay in legal justice, they are encouraging those people who are sitting on the fence, undecided whether mobocracy can take precedence over democracy, and to jump to the wrong side which may make India not different from some of our neighbours. 

Many public institutions have lost credibility, many of them work poorly. But they are our institutions, and it is we who have to rectify it. We should trust democracy to render justice, and do nothing that makes the process difficult.

Equally important is our character. "National character," said Rajaji "is the key stone on which rests the fate and future of our public affairs, not this or that ism." Let us not inject the virus of violence into people's character by not unequivocally condemning such acts.

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