Has human life become so cheap that a mob sees no wrong in killing human beings over a rumour?
“Please, don’t beat me”, “I am an Assamese,” the cries of Nilotpal Das fell on deaf ears as the angry mob surrounding him and his friend Abhijit Nath lynched them to death. Both in their 20s, Das and Nath were visiting Assam’s Karbi Anglong district but little did they know their nature trail would turn into a death call.
Abhijit Nath- a Guwahati Businessman and Nilotpal Das-a budding musician from Goa were travelling in a black SUV, when a mob of local villagers stopped them at about 7.30 pm on Friday few minutes after rumours spread that two men had kidnapped a child and fled in a black car. An eyewitness accounted that the mob forced them to get out of the car and searched it. Even though no child was found in the car, the villagers started beating them with bamboo sticks and machetes. The video captures the chilling moments where brutally assaulted victims could be seen begging for their lives. Though the police reached the spot 90 minutes later, however, both of them died before they reached the hospital.
The entire incident took place over a rumour which as The Indian Express reported was short- “Puwali aase garir bhitorot (There is a kid inside the car).” It further reported that the rumours were spread through social media, WhatsApp and even through phone-calls. As soon as the message of two alleged child-traffickers being held spread in the area, people from neighbouring villages too joined the mob mercilessly thrashing the two tourists. “People called their friends in neighbouring villages saying that child abductor has been caught. The people and even rode on bikes to join in,” said a 65-years-old eyewitness. “The crowd strength was at least 500 at one point,” she added further.
It is indeed appalling and shocking to believe that a baseless rumour led a mob to kill two innocent men. A false rumour turned the mob into murderers. A human life has become so cheap that a mob sees no wrong in killing human beings over a rumour. But given the rising number of lynching over false rumours, one can only say that it has become a new normal in India. The sporadically occurences of mob lynching have been increasingly reported since past few years. The incident based on rumours constitute a major part of it.
Lynched over rumours:
A media report analysis by IndiaSpend in June last year revealed that out of total incidents of mob lynching, 52% were fuelled by rumours. Spreading the false news and false statements in someone’s name, spreading edited clips that misreport a particular incident has been on a rise in India. The news generated and forwarded through WhatsApp has also been on a significant rise. Most of the time, the forwards are based on rumours and fake news. With the proliferation of smartphones and wider accessibility of the internet, it has also become easy to spread misinformation and rumours. Some WhatsApp forwards or viral videos serve the purpose to create panic and hysteria among masses.
In two similar incidents last year, Jharkhand mobs beat seven people to death that horrified the country. All over rumours of them being “Child Traffickers”. The trigger was a WhatsApp message that had gone viral, urging people to be careful of strangers as they most likely belonged to a “child lifting gang”.
In 2018 alone, almost 9 cases of mob lynching have been registered. In April this year, a man was beaten to death by a mob after he was seen aimlessly wandering the streets in Tamil Nadu. The month of May recorded six such incidents including a man in Bengaluru being lynched to death after a mob suspected him of being a child trafficker. During the investigation, the police found out the panic was caused over a video in which two men on a motorcycle are seen pulling up to a group of children as one of them grabs a child and they ride off. However, the video is neither from India nor is it real. This happens in most of the cases.
What does law say?
In the past few years, with the increase in social media users in India fake news and rumour-based news has become a menace. Though India has an IPC section 505 to tackle the rumour-mongering, it isn’t doing enough. Especially, in digital formats it is difficult to find who sparked the rumours or where did it originate from. However, by the time it is decoded, the damage would have been done as seen in most of the cases above.
Without a dedicated team of cyber experts, it is difficult for police to take precautionary action. Talking to BBC, senior Assam police official Mukesh Agarwal said, “When rumours start circulating on social media, it takes some time to stop them completely.”
While police departments in the state of Tamil Nadu and Telangana have started awareness drive, in Karnataka, police have set up social media control rooms to monitor posts, viral messages and videos. But it is the need of the hour to find out more robust and potential solution for the problem.
Even if it is over rumour, how is lynching justified?
Over the years, the problem of the mob taking control of the situation and acting on its own will have increased significantly. What or who empowers these mobs, collective mind-sets to take the matter into their own hands disregarding the very law and order in the country? These no more faceless mobs feel that they are immune from the law and act according to their own sense of justice.
In the case of Assam Lynching, so far 19 people have been arrested but it is not so in every case. Last year, when Junaid Khan- a 15-year-old youth from Haryana was lynched over a seat-sharing feud in the train, police found no witness to identify the culprits even when the lynching took place in front of a packed train.
The mob mentality hide behind numbers, which makes it easy for even a small number of people to get away with the horrific crime such as lynching. There have been attempts in the past to justify it as a reflection of people’s anger and frustration, but as a civilised society can we afford to have the mob run the rule? It is our indifference that contributes more to the flourishing of such incidents. The growing cases of mob lynching should unsettle us, worry us; and if they don’t then the day is not far when the anarchy will hit home.