India's top court calls for new law to curb mob violence

FILE- In this July 5, 2018 file photo, an Indian woman, who wears a veil as part of tradition, attends a meeting to condemn recent incidents of mob attacks, in Ahmadabad, India. India's highest court on Tuesday asked the federal government to consider enacting a law to deal with an increase in mob violence and lynchings that have mostly followed rumors that the victims either belonged to members of child kidnapping gangs or were beef eaters and cow slaughterers. (AP Photo/Ajit Solanki, File)
FILE- In this Oct. 3, 2015 file photo, Indians participate in a candlelight vigil in memory of 52-year-old Muslim farmer Mohammad Akhlaq who was lynched by a mob, in New Delhi, India. India's highest court on Tuesday asked the federal government to consider enacting a law to deal with an increase in mob violence and lynchings that have mostly followed rumors that the victims either belonged to members of child kidnapping gangs or were beef eaters and cow slaughterers. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri, file)

NEW DELHI — India's highest court on Tuesday asked the federal government to consider enacting a law to deal with an increase in lynchings and mob violence fueled mostly by rumors that the victims either belonged to members of child kidnapping gangs or were beef eaters and cow slaughterers.

The Supreme Court said that "horrendous acts of mobocracy" cannot be allowed to become a new norm, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.

"Citizens cannot take law into their hands and cannot become law unto themselves," said Chief Justice Dipak Misra and two other judges, A.M. Khanwilkar and D.Y. Chandrachud, who heard a petition related to deadly mob violence. They said the menace needs to be "curbed with iron hands," the news agency reported.

The judges asked the legislature to consider a law that specifically deals with lynchings and cow vigilante groups and provides punishment to offenders.

India has seen a series of mob attacks on minority groups since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party won national elections in 2014. The victims have been accused of either smuggling cows for slaughter or carrying beef. Last month, two Muslims were lynched in eastern Jharkhand state on charges of cattle theft. In such mob attacks, at least 20 people have been killed by cow vigilante groups mostly believed to be tied to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party.

Most of the attacks waged by so-called cow vigilantes from Hindu groups have targeted Muslims. Cows are considered sacred by many members of India's Hindu majority, and slaughtering cows or eating beef is illegal or restricted across much of the country.

However, most of the mob attacks this year have been fueled mainly by rumors ignited by messages circulated through social media that child-lifting gangs were active in villages and towns. At least 25 people have been lynched and dozens wounded in the attacks. The victims were non-locals, mostly targeted because they looked different or didn't speak the local language.

Although Indian authorities have clarified that there was no truth to the child-lifting rumors and that the targeted people were innocent, the deadly and brutal attacks, often captured on cellphones and shared on social media, have spread across the country.

While Tuesday's ruling calls for stringent measures by both the central and state governments, Indian government has looked somewhere else. It recently blamed the Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp for failing to stop false information and called on it to take "immediate action" to prevent the social media platform from being misused to spread rumors and irresponsible statements leading to mob violence.

The Supreme Court advocated setting up special or fast-track courts to hear cases of lynching and mob violence and asked the state governments to prepare compensation schemes for the victims. It also directed that the victims' families be given free legal aid.

The top court also directed authorities to take action against police or administrative officials who fail to comply with the court's directive on pursuing such cases.

Widespread distrust of the police and the courts prevails in India, both of which are burdened by corruption and poor training. Despite repeated protests, courts are still notoriously slow, and it often takes years or even decades for a case to go to trial.

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Follow Aijaz Hussain on Twitter at twitter.com/hussain_aijaz

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