Grotesque brutality that hit nation’s headline recently was the lynching of two Assamese youths, Nilotpal Das (29) and his friend Abhijeet Nath (30), on June 8 in remote village of Karbi Anglong district. Dastardly and disgraceful was circulating of the video of barbarism in the social media.
Premeditated extra-judicial executions by a frenzy mob have been taking place for centuries. The father of the genre French psychologist Gustave Le Bon’s in his book ‘The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind’ claimed that "an individual immersed for some length of time in a crowd soon finds himself – either in consequence of magnetic influence given out by the crowd or from some other cause of which we are ignorant – in a special state, which much resembles the state of fascination in which the hypnotized individual finds himself in the hands of the hypnotizer."
Assam witnessed several episodes of mayhem and lynching, worst being the Nellie massacre in 1983 when indigenous tribes committed genocide of thousands of innocent Muslims in Nellie. Similar uncontrolled wild behaviour was seen in 2012 in Bodoland when violence broke out between the Bodos and Bengali speaking Muslims that caused thousands of deaths. Both these incidents were tried to be justified by a section that it was purported upon the ‘outsiders’, the illegal migrants, a threat to Assamese people and their culture. But lynching of Nilotpal and Abhijeet raised a complicated issue for the Assamese people: a threat from ‘insiders’, the indigenous tribes/ethnic groups. A similar sense of insecurity from the so-called ‘outsiders’ led to the Nellie massacre which initiated a deed of settlement in the form of Assam Accord to protect the identity of Assamese people, a demand sown by the violent agitation of All Assam Students Union in the early 80s.
Other issues are the impact of uncontrolled social media and second, Rule of Law against vigilante violence.
Rumours and propaganda propagated through social media has affected the social behaviour. Both the youths of Assam became the victim of rumours/ fake post in social media about ‘hopa-dhora’ (child lifters) in Dokmoka area in Karbi Anglong. Sympathy blogs in social media for Nilotpal and Abhijeet equally created fuelled disruptive sentiments against the tribal people in Assam. Regulating social media is a challenge in a democratic set up.
Every crime needs to be taken to logical conclusion regardless how mighty the opponent is. That’s rule of law. Withdrawal of prosecution in Nellie massacre case has set a bad precedent that perpetrators of mass crime can get away with the sanction. Non-prosecution of the accused in Bodoland violence re-ensured the same. Any form of violence on human demands stricter legal action and no tolerance. A sense of respect for law and not to defy the authorities has to be inculcated in the minds of citizens by establishing the Rule of Law.
Indian Penal Code punishes the crime of murder either by death or imprisonment for life. Law enunciates that death should be awarded only in ‘rarest of rare’ cases, a gravest case of extreme culpability. It means when a “murder is committed in an extremely brutal, grotesque, diabolical, revolting or dastardly manner so as to arouse intense and extreme indignation of the community”. In some cases Supreme Court substituted death sentence with life imprisonment by a term in excess of fourteen years or prison term for the rest of his life. Accused of mob lynching in no circumstances can get away with a lesser punishment. The umbrage of mistaken identity fuelled by rumours cannot bail out the accused.
Attacker’s alleged use of racist slurs to abuse the two men before they were lynched depicts distrust and resentment. Identical incidences of mob lynching occurred at several places in the Jharkhand just a year ago on similar rumours about child lifters spread through social media. Many believe this was a motivated agenda to create a phobia of insecurity in the minds of tribal people which would mobilize them against the non-tribal. Increase of mob lynching incidences depicts a worrying situation.
Since the Hon’ble Gauhati High Court has taken cognizance of the matter, the law will take its course in due time. What is the bigger challenge is rebuilding the trust and repairing the bonding between communities for bringing serenity in the society. Greatest cultural icon of Assam Dr. Bhupen Hazarika’s song inspired unity and human values. His heart touching song “ Manuhe manuhor babey, Jodihe okonu nabhabe….Bhabibo konen kowa, xamania……” (if a man doesn’t think of man, who else will, tell me oh my friend!) has universal appeal of brotherhood. Let this song inspire us again which was once selected as the ''best song of the millennium'' by the BBC.
(The writer is Advocate, Supreme Court of India. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
(Published on 16th July 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 29)