Arshad Shaikh looks at the need for a strict anti-lynching law to end the ever-continuing cases of mob lynching in our country. These incidents are inextricably linked to the cattle slaughter laws across different states and the fact that most of the mob lynchings are carried out by cow vigilantes in the name of religion is extremely disconcerting. Some members of civil society have floated the idea of a “Manav Suraksha Kanoon (law to protect humans)” (MASUKA), a law against mob lynching. It needs to be supported by political parties and justice-loving people. Normalising mob lynching means accepting the law of the jungle that drown any tall claims to be a civilization about to enter its golden era.
Two tribals were recently lynched in Seoni district, Madhya Pradesh. The alleged perpetrators were cow vigilantes belonging to the Bajrang Dal and Ram Sena. In a news story posted by The Print (taken from PTI), a CPI(M) fact-finding team, visited Seoni and met the villagers to get a first-hand account of how the lynching took place and why.
According to the team’s findings: “Two tribal men – Dhanasram Invati of village Simaria and Sampat Batti of village Sagar in Seoni were brutally beaten with sticks around 2 am on the intervening night of May 2 and May 3. They died within a few hours. Around 20 people raising slogans of Bajrang Dal and Ram Sena stormed into his house and took out Dhanasram, who was asleep. When his wife Phoolvati intervened, they thrashed her and even tore her clothes.”
The Madhya Pradesh Ram Sena chief, Shubhan Singh Baghel allegedly posted a video claiming responsibility for killing Dhansaram and Sampat because they had indulged in cow slaughter. However, in an interview with The Quint, Baghel denied that his men had anything to do with the lynching. He claimed that the karyakartas of Ram Sena merely informed the police that cows were going to be slaughtered in Simaria village. The police took no action. Later the police reached the spot, but by that time, the cows were slaughtered. Ram Sena karyakartas handed over the ‘butchers’ to the police along with the cow meat. Baghel retorts that he does not know how they died in police custody. The police have arrested 13 of those accused.
The two tribal men are not the first to be lynched for cow slaughter. Men from the Muslim community have been regularly killed on charges of cow smuggling and cow slaughtering by zealous cow vigilantes. There are two very disturbing aspects to these shameful episodes. One is the complete failure of the law and order machinery to prevent the continued incidents of mob lynching and the other, the very unscientific nature of the stringent laws on cow slaughter enacted by various states.
Moreover, mob lynching in India is not merely confined to people accused of possessing beef (remember Akhlaq Ahmad of Dadri) or slaughtering cows; it is carried out by bloodthirsty mobs on suspicion of anything from child lifting, witchcraft, theft to a love affair and family-rivalry. Hate crimes emanating from Islamophobia takes the heinous form of mob lynching too. The names of Mohsin Shaikh and Hafiz Junaid are forever etched in memory. They epitomise the ruthless and barbaric manner in which two young souls were mercilessly killed for no other fault but their ‘Muslim-looking’ appearance.
What is the solution to this menace of mob lynching? One way is for the enactment of a strict anti-lynching law and its rigorous implementation. The other is of course, the education of the masses to convince them not to take the law into their own hands.
COW SLAUGHTER LEGISLATION
The cow is a sacred animal for the majority Hindu community in India. However, this does not mean that Hindus do not consume beef. Beef is the cheapest form of protein for communities such as the Dalits, lower castes and tribals who profess the Hindu faith. Beef forms an extensive part of the diet for these communities. Muslims have traditionally been consuming beef and have been involved in meat trade and running slaughterhouses in India. After a prolonged socio-political struggle, the right-wing was able to capture political power in India and immediately introduced stringent cow slaughter laws in various states that they governed. These laws differ from state to state. Entry 15 of the State List of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution talks about the “preservation, protection and improvement of stock and prevention of animal diseases, veterinary training and practice”. This means that the legislatures of various states of India have full power to bring about laws that prohibit the slaughter of cattle and ensure their preservation. However, some states do permit the slaughter of cattle with certain restrictions such as a ‘fit-for-slaughter’ certificate that is given based on things like the age and sex of the animal and its commercial utility. Some states have imposed a total ban on cattle slaughter. In 2017, the Ministry of Environment tried to impose a ban on the sale and purchase of cattle for slaughter at animal markets all across the country under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals law. The apex court, however, overturned the ban in its judgment in July 2017, granting great relief to our beef and leather industries.
With the law on their side, forces of the right-wing chalked another strategy to emphasise their claim of being custodians of the Hindu faith. Every state that they ruled set up ultra-aggressive cow vigilante gangs that monitored intervened and informed the police of any suspected cow slaughter or cow smuggling. Some of these groups, however, exceeded their brief and began lynching those caught in cow trade.
The cow vigilantes had the temerity to circulate videos of their heinous crimes and claim responsibility for the lynchings. This suggests that they were confident that they would only be rewarded for these crimes by the forces who were behind them. The police in many cases arrested those accused of smuggling or slaughtering the animals instead of going after those involved in mob lynchings. It became a joke of sorts on social media that the cow is the safest animal in India and its life is more sacrosanct than human life.
In July 2017, civil society under the banner of “The National Campaign Against Mob Lynching” proposed a draft law named Manav Suraksha Kanoon (MASUKA). The proposed law offers a legal definition of ‘mob’ and ‘lynching’. It demands that lynching should be made a non-bailable offence. The concerned SHO (police officer) should be immediately suspended and a time-bound judicial probe must be carried out. Those convicted of mob lynching must serve the punishment of life imprisonment. Compensation and rehabilitation should be offered to the families of the victim. The political climate in the country is such as the proposed law against lynching has not been taken up seriously by any political party.
Meanwhile, incidents of mob lynching continue to occur on a regular basis. The Qur’ān says: “Therefore We ordained for the Children of Israel that he who slays a soul unless it be (in punishment) for murder or for spreading mischief on earth shall be as if he had slain all mankind; and he who saves a life shall be as if he had given life to all mankind. (Surah Ma’idah, verse 32) The sanctity of life should be paramount for any civilization that aims to crown itself with splendour and glory. If we cannot put an end to mob lynching now, our entry into the much-publicised “Amrit Kaal” will have to bear the accusations of being phony and fraudulent.