Monday, May 27, 2024

Mob violence and the law


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The report that two men from Nongthliew in Eastern West Khasi Hills district who tried to rape a 17-year old girl were lynched by a mob and only later were the police informed of the incident is a wake-up call for society. The alleged rapists later died due of their wounds. This is not the first instance of mob violence in Meghalaya. People have been lynched on the accusation that they are ‘nongshohnoh’ (worshippers of a python (thlen) that allegedly enriches the person/family that rears it, provided it is regularly fed human blood). The above is a Khasi belief that persists even today in the rural outback. In the city people have learnt to look at the “Thlen” and “Nongshohnoh” portent with scepticism.
The question here is why a mob should take the law into their hands. What pushes a group to be so enraged as to attack the ‘alleged’ rapists to the point where they succumbed to their injuries. In law the dictum is that a person is innocent until proven guilty. For a mindless mob led by emotions of anger and disgust at the actions of the alleged rapists, the two men are deemed guilty because no woman would allege attempted rape unless she has been a victim of those circumstances. The other aspect is also that there are far too many such incidents involving even little girls being raped by their male family members which evokes disgust and anger. People know that the law moves at snail’s pace and rapists even if arrested and face trial would at some point be released and perhaps repeat their crimes. This is why instant punishment is preferred to the long arduous route of the law.
A mob moreover is a crowd acting under strong emotional conditions that often lead to violence or illegal acts. The primary distinction between a crowd and a mob is the level of shared emotion, as well as destructive expressions of emotion. Mob violence serves a need for immediate gratification often because there is distrust of the keepers of the law. There are far too many examples of failure of the law to rise to the occasion. When the law is seen to favour those with privilege and those in power particularly those with political clout, they lose confidence in it and it frustrates them. It pushes common citizens to assume the role of judge, jury and executioner, all in one. This is why the law must be seen to be effective and impartial no matter what the stature of the law breaker. But what people see is a class of elite who get away with impunity by throwing their weight around. When this reaches a point of intolerance, mob violence is the natural corollary.

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