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18 Jul 2018

SC warns against rule of mob... ARE YOU LISTENING, PRIME MINISTER?

TT, New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Tuesday reminded the government of its "sacrosanct duty" to protect its citizens from lynch mobs, and called upon Parliament to enact a special law against vigilante violence.

"No act of a citizen is to be adjudged by any kind of community under the guise of protectors of law," Chief Justice Dipak Misra said as a three-judge bench laid down guidelines for the Centre and state governments to nip vigilantism in the bud.

The judgment, on a batch of petitions seeking a crackdown against lynching in the name of cow protection, comes days after a controversy erupted over Union minister Jayant Sinha honouring seven men convicted of beating to death a meat trader in BJP-ruled Jharkhand on the suspicion of possessing beef.

It also coincided with a mob attack on septuagenarian social activist Swami Agnivesh, who was punched, kicked and pushed to the ground by a 200-strong group of alleged BJP Yuva Morcha workers in Jharkhand. Some residents said Agnivesh was dubbed "an agent of Pakistan" before being thrashed.

More than two dozen lynchings have been reported across the country over just a few weeks, with a 32-year-old call centre employee killed in Karnataka this weekend after rumours spread that he was a child-kidnapper.

"The horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be permitted to inundate the law of the land. Earnest action and concrete steps have to be taken to protect the citizens from the recurrent pattern of violence, which cannot be allowed to become 'the new normal'," said the bench that also included Justices A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud.

CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury said on Twitter: "The PM and the central government should be ashamed after the judgment of the Supreme Court on lynching today. It has shown the mirror to the ministers and the PM under whose watch these crimes are being committed."

According to IndiaSpend, the country's first data journalism initiative, 97 per cent of cow-related violence (61 of 63 attacks) in the period between 2010 and 2017 occurred after May 2014, when Modi came to power.

But the Prime Minister, while he has referred to "anti-social elements" making "cow protection a medium of spreading anarchy", has stopped short of unequivocally condemning the lynchings.

On Monday, the Prime Minister's office had tweeted: "Where the power of hope prevails over mindless hate. Where 125 crore Indians write their own destiny. This is our New India: PM @narendramodi."

But ministers in his government have publicly come out in support of the accused. While Jayant Sinha garlanded the convicts and treated them to sweets, his colleague Mahesh Sharma had visited the home of an accused in the lynching of Mohammed Akhlaque, killed by a mob in his own house in Uttar Pradesh's Dadri in 2015.

The court said there could be no shadow of doubt that the authorities "have the principal obligation to see that vigilantism, be it cow-vigilantism or any other vigilantism of any perception, does not take place".

"Lynching is an affront to the rule of law and to the exalted values of the Constitution itself. We may say without any fear of contradiction that lynching by unruly mobs and barbaric violence arising out of incitement and instigation cannot be allowed to become the order of the day," the bench said.

"Such vigilantism, be it for whatever purpose or borne out of whatever cause, has the effect of undermining the legal and formal institutions of the State and altering the constitutional order. These extrajudicial attempts under the guise of protection of the law have to be nipped in the bud; lest it would lead to rise of anarchy and lawlessness which would plague and corrode the nation like an epidemic," it warned.

"Unless these incidents are controlled, the day is not far when such monstrosity in the name of self-professed morality is likely to assume the shape of a huge cataclysm. It is in direct violation of the quintessential spirit of the rule of law and of the exalted faiths of tolerance and humanity," Chief Justice Misra, writing the judgment, said.

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