At a time
when India is reeling under hate lynching, it is sobering to remember that it
took the United States Senate 100 years to approve a bill to make lynching a
federal crime. Over 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced in the U.S.
Congress since 1918, but all were voted down until the Justice for Victims of
Lynching Act of 2018 introduced by three Senators of African-American descent
including Kamala Harris was approved unanimously in the winter of 2018.
bill describes lynching as “the ultimate expression of racism in the United
States”. Senator Cory Booker said the bill recognised lynching for what it is:
“a bias-motivated act of terror”. When will Parliament here recognise,
similarly, that lynching is “a bias-motivated act of terror” and “the ultimate
expression of communal hatred in India”?
dispute this description, citing the relatively small numbers of such mob
crimes. They miss the point that hate lynching is designed as an act to
terrorise an entire community. The number of lynch murders in the U.S.
mentioned in the bill averages around 55 annually, but despite these small
numbers, these performative acts of violence succeeded in instilling intense
fear among all African-Americans for decades.
purpose is being served by lynching in India; again performative acts of hate
violence, but now using modern technology, video-graphing of mob lynching,
widely circulating these images through social media, and celebrating these as
acts of nationalist valour. These have similarly instilled a pervasive sense of
everyday normalised fear in the hearts of every Indian from the targeted
minority community. It is this which indeed makes lynching an ultimate act of
Court of India recently asked the Union government and all the major States to
explain what action has been taken to prevent these growing incidents of
lynching, including passing a special law to instil a sense of fear for law
amongst vigilantes and mobsters. Kunwar Danish Ali, a first term Bahujan Samaj
Party MP from Amroha, raised the same question in Parliament, describing mob
lynching as “an assault on democracy”. His inquiry was met with noisy
disruptions, but he got no answer.
Pradesh Law Commission (UPLC) earlier last month took the initiative,
unprompted by the Uttar Pradesh government, to recommend a draft anti-lynching
law. It commends a law which closely follows in almost every major detail the
first law against lynching passed in this country, a remarkable ordinance
introduced by the Manipur government late last year, indeed the most
significant statute against religious hate crimes in the country.
noteworthy observation in the text of the United States bill is that it records
that at least 4,742 people were lynched in the U.S. between 1882 and 1968, but
99% of all perpetrators remain unpunished. It is significant to remember that
the first anti-lynching legislation proposed as far back as in 1918 in the U.S.
targeted state officials for failing to provide equal protection under the laws
to anyone victimised by a mob. Impunity characterises lynching in India as
well. Addressing this squarely, both the Manipur statute and the UPLC draft
create a new crime of dereliction of duty by police officials, holding a police
officer guilty of this crime if he or she “omits to exercise lawful authority
vested in them under law, without reasonable cause, and thereby fails to
prevent lynching”. Dereliction also includes the failure to provide protection
to a victim of lynching; failure to act upon apprehended lynching; and refusing
to record any information relating to the commission of lynching. This crime
carries the penalty of one to three years and a fine. The UPLC goes further to
include also a new crime of dereliction of duty by District Magistrates.
creation of this new crime was also the key recommendation of the Prevention of
Communal & Targeted Violence (Access to Justice and Reparations) Bill,
proposed by the National Advisory Council of the erstwhile United Progressive
Alliance government (full disclosure: Farah Naqvi and I were co-convenors of
the working group which drafted this proposed bill, which however was never
even introduced in Parliament). We were convinced that it is only the creation
of such a crime that will compel public officials to perform their duty with
fairness, in conformity with their constitutional and legal duties, to ensure
equal protection to all persons, regardless of their faith and caste.
Manipur law and UPLC recommendations also lay down elaborate duties of police
officials in the event of lynching. These include taking all reasonable steps
to prevent any act of lynching including its incitement and commission; to that
end making all possible efforts to identify instances of dissemination of
offensive material or any other means employed in order to incite or promote
lynching of a particular person or group of persons; and making all possible
efforts to prevent the creation of a hostile environment against a person or
group of persons.
sensitively and expansively lay down official duties to protect victims and
witnesses. They state that a victim shall have the right to reasonable,
accurate, and timely notice of any court proceeding and shall be entitled to be
heard at any proceeding in respect of bail, discharge, release, parole,
conviction or sentence of an accused, and to file written submissions on
conviction, acquittal or sentencing. They also explicitly require the
Superintendent of Police to inform the victim in writing of the progress in the
investigation. The victim shall have the right to receive a copy of any
statement of the witness recorded during investigation or inquiry and a copy of
all statements and documents.
UPLC goes further than the Manipur statute is in laying down the right to
compensation. It places the duty squarely on the Chief Secretary to provide
compensation to victims of lynching within 30 days of the incident. It states
that while computing compensation, the State government must give due regard to
bodily, psychological and material injuries and loss of earnings, including
loss of opportunity of employment and education, expenses incurred on account
of legal and medical assistance. It also lays down a floor of ₹25
lakh in case lynching causes death.
Congress government of Madhya Pradesh has announced its resolve to pass legal
provisions against lynching. It chooses curiously to not do this by an
anti-lynching law, but instead by amendments to the Madhya Pradesh Cow Progeny
Slaughter Prevention Act 2004 (which would effectively limit its scope only to
cow-related lynching, and not lynching triggered by other charges).
proposed amendments do not include any provisions to punish dereliction of
duty, protect victim rights or secure compensation. All that it proposes is
punishment for any act by a mob which indulges in violence in the name of cow
vigilantism from six months to three years of imprisonment and a fine. It is
unclear what deterrence such amendments would instil, since existing laws
contain much greater punishments for murder and aggravated attacks. In its
present form, it appears a weak, half-hearted and poorly thought-out measure.
The Ashok Gehlot-led government in Rajasthan has also tabled an anti-lynching
bill. This prescribes higher punishments, investigation by senior police
officers, and mandatory compensation but not the critical elements of
dereliction of duty or victim rights. Without these, they will make little
difference on the ground.
Amit Shah now heads a committee to propose action against lynching. The
question remains: do we expect Mr. Shah, or indeed Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister
Yogi Adityanath to propose a law against lynching which punishes public
officials who fail in their duties, protects victims and witnesses, and ensures
comprehensive reparation, as proposed by the UPLC and provided in the Manipur
finally recognising our pain,” said the great-granddaughter of Anthony
Crawford, an African American, who was lynched in 1916. I wonder how long
survivors of lynching who lost their loved ones to merciless mob hate in India
will have to wait for a government which will recognise their pain.
Mander is a human rights worker, writer and teacher
Source: The Hindu