Mob Justice Is A Symptom Of The Degeneration Of The Rule Of Law
The mob justice meted out to 13 year old Samiul Alam Rajon, who was beaten to death in Bangladesh by an angry mob bent on teaching the youngster a lesson for stealing a bicycle, is a classic case of mob madness we are witnessing on our streets every day. Throughout Asia, the deteriorating rule of law and ineffective criminal justice system is resulting in people losing their trust in the system and resorting to mob justice. Mob justice is often defined as the verdict of the crowd by subverting legal procedures and institutions in situations of great injustice and mass suffering. The right to take human life may belong to the state but should not be such in societies where weak courts and poor law enforcement are combined with institutionalized injustice. The judicial system has failed to deliver and has aggravated the general frustrations of a society that has increasingly come to feel that, for its grievances to be addressed adequately, it must take the law into its own hands. Where cities are forever smarting under violence and where the grip of the law is loose, it is not unusual for citizens to act as the police and the judge. The protesters turn into a vigilante mob with ready justifications for murder.
The increase in mob justice is directly proportionate to the backlog of cases in the courts. People are skeptical, and feel the judiciary will fail them. The mob in Pakistan in particular, takes shape of mad vigilantism in cases of blasphemy. A number of mob crimes were committed by charged mob that is often incited by the local religious leaders to perform their religious duty and kill any person accused of blasphemy. People who are desperate for justice but are unable to access it, resort to take the law into their own hands. The slowness of the judicial procedure, lack of police visibility and the lack of trust between police and local communities are some of the main drivers behind incidents of mob justice. Ethically, in a modern liberal democratic society with rule of law, such a kind of justice cannot be condoned and tolerated, but unfortunately in our part of the world the incidences of mob justice are overlooked by the government and the judiciary alike. The culprits often numbering in dozens, if ever apprehended, are acquitted by the court on account of lack of evidence as their direct involvement is questionable given the fact that a number of people were involved. For example, in August 2010, when two teenage boys were lynched in Sialkot, Pakistan, and clubbed to death by a charged mob, the judge sentenced 7 men to death while five co-accused were acquitted on the grounds of insufficient evidence. Similarly, in the famous case of Best Bakery during the 2002 Gujrat riot, a Muslim family of 14 in the Hanuman Tekri area in Vadodara, India, was burnt to death by an angry mob chanting communal slogans. All of the 21 accused were acquitted on June 27, 2003 by the additional sessions judge. On July 9, 2012, the Bombay High Court, upheld the life sentences of four accused while it acquitted five accused, for lack of evidence.
Mob justice is not the creature of an hour, the sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury, or the unspeakable brutality of an insane mob. It is the direct result of persistent inability of our legal system to conclusively resolve so many criminal cases. Increasing cases of mob justice are being reported from Bangladesh, Pakistan and India where people take charge ensuing an uncontrollable chaos that culminates in mass murder and barbarity. For example, in July 2011, six alleged robbers in the Noakhali area, in southern Bangladesh were beaten to death by a mob after the gang they were part of, shot a villager dead. Additionally, in a recent case, a thirteen year old boy from northeastern city of Sylhet, Bangladesh, was beaten to death by a gang of men who accused him of theft. The video of the public lynching went viral where the men are shown laughing and taunting at young Samiul Alam Rajon as they hit him repeatedly with a metal rod, while he begs them to stop and asks for water.
Likewise in southern Assam’s Karimganj district, India, a mob decided and judged that a man was guilty of raping a girl and punished him by cutting off his penis. Many supported the mob stating that people are angry at rising crimes and they should be allowed to take the law into their hands. Another rapist was dragged from his prison cell and hanged to death by the mob. On March 5, 2015, the accused Syed Farid Khan was extricated from the supposedly high security Dimapur Central Jail in southern Assam’s Karimganj district, India, by the charged mob that broke open two of the prison gates and dragged the man onto the streets, where he was tortured and later hanged in the presence of the jail security who stood as the silent spectator of the horror.
Petty theft is one of the main triggers for lynching in Indonesia. According to data from the National Violence Monitoring System, 20% of victims of violence that were killed, badly hurt or permanently crippled are victims of mob justice. In 2014, there were nearly 4300 incidences of mob justice causing three hundred deaths. Similar trends can be observed in Sri Lanka where a mob was incited by a Buddhist monk after the alleged assault of another monk by Muslim youths in the town of Aluthgama, killing three people in Muslim areas. In Pakistan, a Christian couple was burnt alive by an angry mob alleging blasphemy.
Societal intolerance and the growing despair of the lengthy and ineffective legal process has caused people to take out revenge on the petty criminals, all the while the corrupt leaders enjoy complete protection of the system that perpetuates judicial incompetence. Ethical and religious conundrums in the region bring to the forefront, an insecure society that, in the face of state inaction, takes it upon itself to cleanse the society of criminals, judging on the moral scale of warped mob mentality. In these cases, a mob’s mentality is not much different from extremist groups such ISIS that impose their version of moral and religious ethics and kill those who dare disagree with this version.
The governments of South East Asian countries must invest in strengthening judicial and police institutions, establishing the rule of law and giving it priority over everything else. The legitimacy of any government depends on the rule of law, and, establishing efficient policing and a judicial system that is fast, fair and transparent is Priority No 1. Educating the public about how courts work and the fact that people are innocent until proven guilty, and visible policing are some of the things that need to be done. When seeking justice, the society must temper vengeance with reform. A mob is the method by which good citizens turn over the law and the government to criminal or irresponsible classes. Having checks and balances is a way to prevent the government from either devolving into an autocratic tyranny or developing an autocratic mob mentality. The system of criminal justice should be upgraded on modern lines to ensure transparency and dispensation of speedy justice. Also, petty crimes should be dealt with at the magisterial level or court of first instance to lessen the burden for the higher judiciary, petty criminals should be reformed by community service and not by serving jail time as this will only add unnecessary burden on the judicial system and the national exchequer. The state must proactively take urgent steps to restore people’s faith in the system before it is too late and before society’s stability is threatened by a charged mob ready to bring down the government, resulting in anarchy and chaos.