‘Mob justice’ the rule, not exception, in lawless Bihar

‘Mob justice’ the rule, not exception, in lawless Bihar

Two weeks ago, a railway employee, Ashok Singh, posted at Sasaram station in Bihar, collected Rs 24 lakh from the booking counters and went to the bank to deposit it. The cash he was carrying was the amount collected from the sale of tickets at the railway station. But he was waylaid and his bag containing cash snatched. When he resisted, he was fired upon by the sole miscreant, Pankaj Goswami.

When Goswami tried to flee with the bag, the locals gave him a hot chase and nabbed him. The miscreant was thrashed mercilessly with lathis, stones and other weapons. He died on the spot.

This was just one of three similar mob lynching incidents that shook Bihar in the space of a week. In Begusarai, three criminals were lynched to death when they tried to abduct a girl from the government school. Similarly, in Sitamarhi, a man was lynched when the driver of a van raised an alarm that the person was trying to rob him.

Why is that there is a sudden spurt in incidents of mob justice in Bihar? Is it because people are losing faith in the law enforcing agencies? Or, is it that people are frustrated over the slow process of justice delivered by the courts?

“It could be both. These days, people are getting impatient with the speed of justice. From lower court to high court to the SC, one has to make several rounds of courts for decades to get justice – whether it’s a rape case, robbery or a property dispute. People nowadays want spot ‘faisla’ (judgement),” says Patna-based lawyer Rakesh Kumar.

Social scientist Ajay Kumar says it’s the failure of the criminal justice system that has given rise to mob lynching incidents. He cites the example of a woman being paraded naked in Ara in Bhojpur, because she was alleged to have been involved in the killing of a 19-year-old youth.

“I feel there are three reasons for people taking the law into their hands. First, it’s an undeniable fact there is a criminal justice failure. Secondly, there is an overall degeneration in our society.

For instance, if I am travelling in a car and, inadvertently, I bump into someone’s vehicle, chances are I would be lynched, so intolerant are people nowadays. Thirdly, the person, who is part of the mob, feels he will never be apprehended in a case where he is delivering ‘instant justice’”, the social scientist told Deccan Herald.

To buttress his point, he cites the example of an irate mob in Nalanda — the hometown of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, where a mob lynched a school principal after charging him with the death of two students.

The ugly incident took place after villagers found the body of two students from a pond adjacent to the school. As the news spread, locals gathered at the school and roughed up the principal with lathi and bamboo sticks. Though he pleaded innocence throughout the flogging, the irate mob continued to beat him up mercilessly -- till he died.

One too many

But then, this is not an isolated case of ‘street justice’. In recent times, lynching incidents have become the rule, rather than the exception.

Sometime back, Veeru Manjhi, who was charged with the murder of a co-villager, Upendra Manjhi, was beaten to death by an unruly mob in Jehanabad.

Prior to this incident, four tribals, suspected to be thieves, were beaten to death by villagers near Sasaram. The deceased were members of the Banjara community from Bharatpur (Rajasthan) and earned their living selling toys, idols and other craft items.

In another grim reminder of ‘mob justice’, a murder accused, Ravi Kumar, was pulled out from police custody by an irate mob, stoned and thrashed mercilessly in Vaishali. Earlier, 10 thieves were caught red-handed and beaten to death in the same district — Vaishali.

A few years back, a chain-snatcher was beaten up black and blue by the mob and then tied to the motorbike of a cop, who dragged him to the yards in Bhagalpur.

Since January this year, at least 19 persons have been lynched in the state. In 2017, 13 persons were lynched.

Police data shows that in 2013 and 2014, eight persons each were lynched in two successive years. However, this figure shot to an alarming 20 in 2015. It came down to seven in 2016 but shot up again in 2017.

“There is no clear pattern of mob justice. Mob lynching incidents are taking place in urban areas as well as rural. In some of the cases, criminals were lynched by the mob even as police remained on-lookers,” said a senior IPS officer, admitting that there is no immediate solution to mob justice.

Compensation to victim

However, alarmed over the rise in cases of mob lynching, the Nitish Kumar government on September 13 decided to pay a compensation of Rs 3 lakh to the family of the deceased in such killings.

Of this amount, Rs 1 lakh will be paid to the victim’s family immediately while the remaining Rs 2 lakh will be paid only when the police investigation into the case is over. The cabinet meet, chaired by Nitish Kumar, also decided to set up speedy trial in mob lynching cases.

“The hearings will be held in a fast-track court on a day-to-day basis. The court will ensure that the trial in such cases is completed within six months,” said Sanjay Kumar, the principal secretary in the cabinet secretariat department.

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