In almost all incidents of mob lynchings, the numbers of which have been alarmingly rising in recent times, the police and administration are usually mute bystanders to the murderous rampage of vigilantes.
Sometimes the acts of deliberate inaction are borne out of complicity, sometimes sheer apathy. Aghast and appalled at this state of affairs, a group of concerned citizens and public persons, with the aid of senior lawyers, have come together under the banner of “Campaign Against Mob Lynching” and have formulated a draft law- titled The Protection from Lynching Act, 2017 or the “Manav Suraksha Kanoon” (Human Lives Protection Act) aimed at curbing, and finally eradicating the malaise.
Contrary to certain misconceptions, the law seeks to address situations and incidents of lynching not only on communal grounds, but also because of alleged kidnapping of children, theft, witchcraft, and transportation and ferrying of prohibited meat.
The law is the first of its kind to define lynching as a cognizable and non-bailable offence, foster responsibility and accountability on public officials, and suggesting a mechanism so that victims and witnesses can testify without fear.
Under Section 2(a), lynching is defined as,
“any act or a series of violent acts, spontaneous or premediated, targeted at meting out extra-judicial punishment, or acts of protest caused by a mob’s desire to inflict upon and enforce upon a person or group of persons any form of perceived legal, societal or cultural norms or biases.”
Because in lynching cases, at the behest of one or a few people, inciting material is often widely disseminated, the draft law defines offensive material as anything that can be reasonably construed to incite a mob based on religion, race, culture, or “any other ground”.
A victim includes anyone who has suffered physical, mental, psychological or monetary harm as a result of lynchings or attempts to lynch, and also includes relatives and legal heirs.
Accountability of Police
Sections 3, 5, and 6 of the draft law casts a duty on the officers-in-charge and personnel of police stations to take all reasonable steps, including those warranted under Section 129 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, to prevent incitement to lynchings by various means and acts of lynchings.
Failure to do so would be regarded as a criminal dereliction of duty, and where the Police Acts of various states do not prescribe a penalty, it shall be punishable with six months’ imprisonment and a fine of a maximum of fifty thousand rupees.
According to Section 17, prior sanction under Sections 196 and 197 of the Code of Criminal Procedure would not apply if the offence(s) in question have been committed by police officers.
Victims’ and Witnesses Rights
Section 21 gives a plethora of rights to the victims and witnesses of lynching incidents. They have the right to free and effective legal aid, the right to have their identities kept secret, and the right to be represented by a lawyer of their choice at the time of hearing. All the expenses of engaging a lawyer shall be borne by the concerned state Legal Aid Services Authority.
A duty is cast on the Investigation Officer to record any complaint of intimidation, inducement or coercion as reported by any victim or witness.
Section 23 provides for compensation to victims and their next of kin within a period of 30 days from the date of the incident. All factors- injury to the body, mind, psyche and property have to be taken into account while disbursing such compensation, and the amount shall be no less than 25 lacs rupees in case of death.
The draft law, prepared under the aegis and guidance of Senior Advocates Sanjay Hegde, states that appeals from the court of the designated judge (the only one authorised to try offences under the Act) will lie only before the High Courts. This, Hegde said, is to ensure that there are no acquittals or let-ups in prosecution because of the inexperience or prejudices of lower court judges.
The proponents of the draft Act are keen that it is presented as a Private Member’s Bill in Parliament. On 12 July, they would be taking out a rally to Parliament to demand the enactment of a specific law on mob lynchings, since such a law would prevail over the provisions of other general laws which haven’t been properly enforced, or have been found inadequate to halt the murderous juggernaut in its tracks.
Comments on the draft law can be provided at www.stopmoblynching.com.
Clarification: An earlier version of the story inadvertently stated that Senior Advocate Rebecca John was involved in the drafting of the law. The law was drafted under Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde’s guidance.
Read the Draft Law here: