Politics

Roots Of Mob Violence Lie In Lack Of Police Reform, Not In BJP’s Rise To Power

Cow protection brigade. (Allison Joyce/Getty Images)
Snapshot
  • Mobs and thuggish elements are wading in to deliver their brand of justice largely because the police force is too meagre or too politicised to do its job.

    Lynchistan is not something that got created after 2014. Its roots lie deeper in the lack of police reform for decades.

Now that the myth, that mob lynchings are directly linked to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) rise to power, has been effectively punctured not just by the odd writer or two, but many others (read here, here, here, here, here, here), it is worth asking a more basic question: why are Indians prone to mob violence?

Before we answer that, it is important to point out that some journalists and media houses are simply taking everyone for a ride by falsely building narratives based on random pieces of anecdotal evidence, with no data supporting their broader conclusions. Thus we had the media spin a pattern of church attacks in 2014 when there was none, and it needed a Rupa Subramanya to point this out through data. More recently, we had Anand Ranganathan hold the mirror to senior journos with decades of experience. The latter claimed that lynching was the new norm in Narendra Modi’s India, especially lynchings targeting Muslims, when the data proved that this is no new trend. We have had mob justice happening even earlier, including mob justice where Muslims were the aggressors.

That it needs two people who are not full-time writers or journalists to point out the reality to those who are shows how far our journalistic community has fallen in terms of objectivity. Journos seem willing to flog stories that they would like to believe rather than look harder for evidence. They are not even doing simple Google searches to find out whether the same things happened earlier or not.

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The data prove that mob violence is not uncommon in India, and the primary reason is unrelated to the party in power at the centre or states. The primary reason is the lack of reform in the law and justice sphere, with police reform being the main missing element in this jigsaw, as Arvind Virmani, former chief economic adviser, has been pointing out repeatedly.

Here’s the point: when the police will not enforce the law, or enforce it only when it suits the party in power, mobs – or rogue elements – will sometimes take law into their own hands.

There are two underlying reasons why this is so.

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First, no politician in any state is willing to let the police follow the law, or give the police institutional independence even though the Supreme Court has ordered states to do this more than 10 years ago (in 2006, to be exact). In every state, the top levels of the police are manned by officers who are in tune with their political bosses. They know their jobs depend on pandering to what their bosses want, and not just by upholding the law.

Second, politicians deliberately make laws that they know cannot be implemented, or make them in ways where implementation is not required.

Take the case of cow slaughter, which is banned in over 18 states.

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Politicians know that it is impractical to ban all kinds of cow slaughter, for old cows do indeed need to be slaughtered, unless the state will buy them off the hands of farmers or the dairy industry.

So the law has been made to address Hindu sentiment, but practical politics requires you to allow clandestine cow slaughter.

An independent police system is duty-bound to stop cow slaughter, for this is the law in most states. But their bosses will tell them to not be too conscientious in this area, since they don’t want to stamp out businesses that depend on illegal slaughter, and also in order to allow protection rackets to flourish and bring in private revenues to politicians.

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So the gau rakshak lynchings, even if we assume they are surfacing more now, are also indirectly linked to the lack of law enforcement on cow slaughter.

The only way to fix the problem of mob justice is to start with police reform.

This means the top levels of policemen need to be depoliticised, by making the selections relatively apolitical and independent. At best, the political authorities should be given two or three options for choosing police chiefs by an independent police commission; alternatively, police bosses should be chosen something like the vigilance chief: with the Chief Justice of the High Court, the Chief Minister and the state opposition leader forming a three-man panel for final selection.

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A related change is an expansion of the police forces in all states. India, given its size, is the most under-policed major country in the world, with police personnel per one lakh population as low as 119, as against the US’s 284, Germany’s 296 and France’s 340.

India can easily double its police forces without making the country overpoliced.

A larger police force also means that some of the more draconian laws can be made less stringent. One consequence of having a relatively small police force is that it needs stronger laws to do its job in a crisis.

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Mobs and thuggish elements are wading in to deliver their brand of justice largely because the police force is too meagre or too politicised to do its job.

Lynchistan is not something that got created after 2014. Its roots lie deeper in the lack of police reform for decades.

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