Rituparna Pegu, Sanatan Deka, and Debashish Gogoi — they were neither from any militant group nor from any government armed force. They were unarmed civilians who were killed in broad daylight at three separate incidents of the state recently.
What is common in all three of them? They were the victims of mob attacks or lynching. Pegu, the 26-year-old young man, was killed on June 12 at the busy Noonmati area of Guwahati by his former employer and colleagues. They stabbed him in the neck, as informed by the police.
On the other hand, Deka was killed at Hajo of Kamrup district by a group of men with whom Deka argued over a small road accident. However, Gogoi was a true victim of mob lynching when a large group of men in a tea garden of Jorhat District killed him while his father and sister had to remain mute spectators.
The pertinent point is that the attackers were not professional killers, rather civilians in all the three incidents. Secondly, these were not isolated cases of mob attack or mob lynching in Assam. The memories are still fresh regarding the infamous killing of two youths Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Nath by a mob in the Karbi Anglong district of Assam. The incident happened almost two years ago. After this incident, nationwide protests were witnessed but concrete steps are yet to be taken by the government as well as the civil society to control mob lynching in the country in general and Assam in particular.
Like the incident of Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Nath, many organisations have started protesting against the recent killings where few of them even tried to give it a communal colour. Many organisations have been trying to focus on the fact that it is only one particular religious group that is more involved in these types of killings.
On the other hand, some of the protestors have been demanding public hanging of the offenders of these crimes. The role of police administration has also been criticised by intellectuals, media agencies as well as by academicians. Perhaps, this trend of reaction will continue maybe for a month or so without impacting any fruitful solution to resolve these types of violent incidents in the near future.
After the incident of Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Das, the government of India constituted two high-level committees to identify a legal framework to effectively deal with incidents of mob violence and lynching (https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/mob-lynching-government-sets-up-4-member-committee-to-suggest-legal).
The Centre has sent an advisory to state governments urging them to take effective measures to prevent incidents of mob lynching. Even Supreme Court of India sent guidelines and Manipur was the first state of India where the state’s legislature passed the Manipur Protection from Mob Violence Act.
The Centre also sent an advisory to state governments urging them to take effective measures to prevent incidents of mob lynching. Even Supreme Court of India sent guidelines and Manipur was the first state of India where the state’s legislature passed the Manipur Protection from Mob Violence Act (https://www.prsindia.org/media/articles-by-prs-team/how-indian-states-can-stop-rampaging-lynch-mobs).
Very few states have adhered to the guidelines of the highest appellate body of India which focussed on a three-pronged approach to putting an end to mob lynching. It focussed on prevention by taking a step to stop spreading messages which can incite mobs.
Secondly, remedial measures like the protection of witnesses as well as legal aid to victims are given priority. Lastly, it also provides importance to the accountability of police officers and district administration regarding mob violence cases.
However, these measures within the administrative and legal framework how far successful to prevent mob lynching cases in the country is a big question as mob lynching needed a multifaceted approach. The basic understanding of the mob lynching is very crucial as Ashutosh Varshney focused on different categories of mob lynching. He cited examples of countries like Indonesia where mostly mob lynching is aimed at punishing theft, hit-and-run accidents, rape, adultery, and witchcraft (http://ashutoshvarshney.net/wp-content/files_mf/crimeandcontexttheindianexpress.pdf).
The scenario of Assam is unique where we have witnessed mixed categories of mob lynching. The incident of Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Das can be categorised more on ethnic lines whereas recent Pegu and Sanatan Deka cannot very easily categorise on the religious or ethnic direction.
On the other hand, countries like India witnessed mob lynching on the basis of ethnic/racial/religious-political order. The scenario of Assam is unique where we have witnessed mixed categories of mob lynching. The incident of Nilotpal Das and Abhijeet Das can be categorised more on ethnic lines whereas recent Pegu and Sanatan Deka cannot very easily categorise on the religious or ethnic direction.
These two incidents suggested more towards the first category of mob lynching; however, the detailed police investigation will throw if there is any hidden agenda behind these incidents. Moreover, attacks on Gogoi can be categorized in the ethnic direction though it also started with an accident issue. Perhaps, if he would belong to that community, maybe the situation will be quite different.
The above discussion indicates that society needs far more than administrative or legal measures to prevent these types of incidents. The key to the resolution is to identify different categories of mob lynching and try to analyse them from the roots. Secondly, society needs a multifaceted civic engagement approach which can lead to tolerance and mutual trust among different communities. The gap between insider and outsider identities must need to be minimized. The increased tensions and depressions in society provide opportunities for men to be more violent irrespective of caste, creed, and religion.
Society at large needs to admit this truth, and then the only resolution comes. Anger and depression management should be started from the schools to colleges. Perhaps, NGOs, self-help groups can provide opportunities for communities to channelize their anger and depressions in a positive direction. To encourage civic engagement, different cultural and religious festivals should be organized for diverse communities to able to communicate for communal harmony. To conclude, the prevention of mob lynching needs to be addressed at the personal level as well as society’s level as the persecutor is within us.
(The author is a Fulbright Conflict Resolution Fellow. Views expressed are his own. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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