India’s highest court has asked the government to enact a new law to deal with an increase in mob violence and lynchings that have reportedly killed more than two dozen of people in the country this year.
The Supreme Court in the capital, New Delhi, on Tuesday, recommended that Parliament create a new penal provision to punish the offenders and stem the mob-related violence.
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“Horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be allowed to become a new norm,” a three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, said. “It has to be curbed with an iron hand.”
“No citizen can take law into his hands or become a law onto himself,” the court ruled.
The top court was hearing a number of petitions seeking direction on checking mob violence by Hindu cow-protection vigilantes targeting Muslims over suspicions of beef consumption and cattle slaughter.
So far this year, there have been 13 incidents of mob lynchings, resulting in the deaths of 27 people, according to the Times of India, often in isolated areas where outsiders have been accused of child kidnapping and other crimes following fake rumours spread via WhatsApp, a messaging application.
In the latest incident, a software engineer was killed in a mob attack last week in the southern state of Karnataka. Five others were lynched in neighbouring Maharashtra on July 1.
Prashant Bhushan, a public interest lawyer and activist, welcomed the court’s latest order, calling it “very useful and important”.
“It [the Supreme Court] has strongly deprecated the recent tendency to spread fake news and hateful news about the religious minorities of the country,” he told Al Jazeera in a phone interview from New Delhi.
Besides coming down “very heavily on lynching and mob violence as a very, very serious assault”, Bhushan said the court has “issued some useful directions”.
State governments have been asked to appoint local officers in every district to monitor mob violence and take proactive measures, he added.
The Supreme Court also urged for such cases to be fast-tracked and decided within six months.
“But, so far as the recommendation to enact a law is concerned, that’s just a recommendation to the legislature because ultimately the Parliament has to enact the law; they can’t issue any direction to the Parliament,” Bhushan went on to say.
“We hope this [law against lynching] becomes a reality,” Tehseen Poonawala, a social rights activist who had petitioned the court over the lynchings, told reporters. “Such a law is really needed in the country.”
Fatal attacks have also been carried out on Muslims by so-called “cow protection groups” who have roamed highways, inspecting livestock trucks.
India’s Hindu majority regard the cow as holy and their slaughter is banned in several Indian states.
Since Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, there have been increasing incidents of mob violence and lynchings targeting Muslims and Dalits, for whom beef and buffalo meat are a staple food.
Bhushan, the lawyer, said the government and the police have allowed the mob attacks to take place.
“Vigilante groups and private armies of various right-wing organisations particularly, right-wing Hindu organisations are responsible for these kinds of mob violence and lynching and the government has allowed them because it supports these kinds of groups,” he said.
Last year, more than 100 military veterans wrote an open letter to Modi, condemning the targeting of Muslims and Dalits, a lesser-privileged caste.
US-based rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused the government of failing to protect religious minorities and other vulnerable groups from frequent attacks.
The prime minister denies the accusation and has publicly criticised so-called cow vigilantes.
The Supreme Court judges on Tuesday sought replies from the federal government and states on the issue and announced that the next hearing would take place in August.
Additional reporting by Saba Aziz. Follow her on Twitter: @saba_aziz