Judgments on the Roads: A Trending Culture of ‘Frontier Justice’ in India
The concept of ‘Frontier Justice’ is as old as human civilization itself. The mob becoming judges is not a newly emerged phenomenon. It has a long and tragic past and almost predates recorded history. No part of the globe can claim itself to be entirely untouched with this brutal phenomenon of vigilante justice. Lynching had once become so rampant and pervasive in the United States that one of the most prolific American writers Mark Twain had sarcastically noted that “America had become the United States of Lyncherdom.” According to a report by ‘Equal Justice Initiative’ around 4000 blacks were lynched in the American South between the end of the civil war and World War II. In Lynch-Law, the first scholarly investigation of lynching, written in 1905, author James E. Cutler stated that lynching is a criminal practice which is peculiar to the United States. However, after observing an alarming rise in the vigilante justice over a decade, I am of the opinion that this peculiarity is gradually shifting to India, though not for similar reasons as that of the United States.
On January 24 this year, when the Nation was gearing up to celebrate the auspicious day of adoption of its own Constitution, a maniacal mob was involved in lynching its Constitutional values and sanctity. This day, a young man accused of robbing and stabbing a truck driver was tied to an electric pole and beaten to death in the capital city of India. On January 20, a furious mob chopped off a hand of a bank robber in the capital city of Bihar, Patna. On January 6, another young man was beaten to death in the Indian capital city by a frenzied crowd who mistook him for an apple thief. On September 28, 2015 a religiously fanatic mob lynched a man to death on the grapevine of eating beef in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh which stormed the Nation. A month before this gruesome incident, on 2nd of August 2015, three suspected cattle thieves were beaten to death in Dadri itself. In another jaw dropping case in March 2015, a crowd of about 8000 people barged into the Central Jail of Dimapur, dragged out an accused suspected of committing rape and beaten him to death. In another ill-fated instance of jungle justice a psychotic crowd in Kaliabazar village of West Bengal, mercilessly beaten a man to death accused of raping and hanging a seven year old girl. In July 2015 a serial rapist killer was attacked in Court premises when he was produced before a Delhi’s Court. In May 2015, an angry mob lynched a man for allegedly beheading a 5 year old child. In October 2014, a lynch mob chopped off a male’s genitals who was caught trying to rape a teenage girl in Ganganagar town of Rajasthan.
As per the statistics available on the official website of ‘National Crime Record Bureau’ the riotous mobs caused maximum injuries (41.7%) to the police personnel in the country in the year 2014. These instances of jungle justice are only the tip of the iceberg as most of these kind of mob actions which occur in the remote part of the country go unreported.
Such an unprecedented rise in vigilante justice indicates an alarming state of affairs for the democracy of the country. This mob justice is certainly against the quintessential spirit of rule of law, which if not stopped may put the nation’s democracy in danger. In order to bring these ugly episodes to a total halt, the reasons behind these incidents are required to be seriously looked into. One of the major reasons for a mob taking law in its hands flows from the peoples’ perpetuating belief about the State’s incompetency in delivering justice to the masses. The deep-naked corruption in the law enforcement agencies, unprecedented delay in disposal of cases by the Judiciary, undue advantage to the rich and dominant in the justice delivery system are among other reasons of peoples’ complete loss of trust in the system. This horrific situation is certainly a high time to introspect blatant failure of Criminal justice delivery system in the country. It is true that a nation can’t be run on emotionally driven mob’s idea of justice but it is equally true that a violent mob doesn’t understand the principle of Audi Alteram Partem as well. Therefore, the bigger responsibility lies on the State’s machinery to rebuild trust in its citizenry that everyone is equal before law and that each and every offender shall be brought to justice. It is in the interest of the State to maintain trust in its people if it doesn’t want the ‘State of Nature’ to prevail in society otherwise the Status Quo of jungle justice is hardly going to change.
(ROHIT KUMAR is 4th year B.A.LL.B Student of School of Law, KIIT University, Bhubaneswar, Odisha)