Lynch mobs, is that what we’ve come to?

The lynching of a man from Rajasthan by a mob in Bengaluru’s Chamarajpet area on Wednesday on suspicion that he was a child-lifter is a terrible crime, cruel and irrational, and driven by atavistic fears and passions. Similar incidents of attacks on strangers have been reported from elsewhere in the city in the past few days. Other districts in the state like Tumakuru and Kolar and the neighbouring states of Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu have also witnessed the lynching of innocent people by mobs. There has been a spurt in these crimes in recent weeks, with the ‘killer virus’ fast spreading from region to region and people to people with the mobile phone as the carrier. Rumours and fake messages about child-lifters on the prowl have freely circulated, and social media posts have speeded up the contagion. The victims are almost always from the low rungs of society, the poor and people who look different or speak a different language, beggars, women or mentally challenged people. 

These are different from the individual crimes of murder or assault that happen every day. They are social crimes in which the victim is randomly targeted, but is almost always a stranger, and they are more irrational than individual crimes. They arise from a sense of insecurity, anxiety and paranoia that may be spreading and deepening in society. It may be a sign of the society trying to turn ‘the different’ into ‘the other’ and punishing them. The charge of child-lifting especially triggers ancient concerns deeply entrenched in the collective mind. Primitive and tribal instincts take over and suddenly individuals, most of whom do not even know each other, become an instant group that punishes the intruder without questioning and trial. It is a return to the state of nature where life is nasty and brutish. 

Increasing disillusionment of the people with the working of the rule of law may lead to such crowd behaviour. Rising economic, political and social anxieties may provide the setting. Accumulated civilisational codes of conduct fall away, and people behave as if there is no law. But there is no excuse for the killings and attacks and the culprits should not be treated with leniency. It is difficult to curb rumour-mongering, but strict action should be taken when cases of deliberate mischief are noticed. The authorities should counter the spread of rumours and fake news with campaigns exposing them and giving correct information. The idea that it is not the mob but the law and order machinery that should deal with a suspect or a culprit should be disseminated and underlined. 

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Lynch mobs, is that what we’ve come to?

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