On the morning of January 4, an angry mob held a meeting in Jharkhand and decided to punish Sanju Pradhan for allegedly cutting off some ‘holy trees’ and hurting their religious sentiments. In the afternoon, over 500 people attacked Pradhan’s home in Chaprideepa village of Simdega district. The young man in his early 30s was dragged out and brutally thrashed before being set on fire.
The police recovered his charred body in the evening.
According to a fact-finding report by the Bharatiya Janta Party, Pradhan’s wife Sapna Devi has claimed that her husband was lynched amid heavy police presence as he used to oppose regular cow slaughter and beef sale at the local market near their home.
The incident came a fortnight after the passage of the Jharkhand (Prevention of Mob Violence and Mob Lynching) Bill in the state assembly. However, the proposed law — which makes lynching a special offence — and similar legislation passed by three other states, Manipur, Rajasthan and West Bengal, continue awaiting Presidential assent.
The concurrent list specified in the Seventh Schedule of the Indian Constitution incidentally features subjects such as criminal law, criminal procedure and preventive detention among others. Therefore, any proposed state law concerning these subjects requires a central nod before its implementation.
The problem of non-implementation
On December 22, 2018, the Manipur Assembly passed the Manipur Protection from Mob Violence Bill while the Rajasthan Assembly passed the Rajasthan Protection from Lynching Bill on August 5, 2019. Similarly, the West Bengal Assembly passed the West Bengal (Prevention of Lynching) Bill on August 30, 2019.
The Uttar Pradesh law commission submitted a report on mob lynching and a draft bill in July 2019. In the same year, the Madhya Pradesh government led by the then chief minister Kamal Nath had proposed an amendment to the existing law against cow slaughter to deal with the cases of lynching. But there has been no headway in both these states.
The Jharkhand law promises to address mob violence — whether spontaneous or planned — on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth, language, dietary practices, sexual orientation, political affiliation, ethnicity or any other ground.
In case of death of the victim, it provides for rigorous imprisonment for life besides a fine of no less than Rs 25 lakh. It also proposes confiscation of the movable and immovable properties of the people found guilty of conspiracy or abetment. It also penalises the conspiracy, abetment, aiding and attempts to lynch. For those obstructing the legal process, the law proposes a punishment of a maximum of three years imprisonment and a maximum fine of Rs 3 lakh. It also underscores the rights of victims and witnesses during the trial.
Replying to a set of queries by the Anandpur Sahib Congress MP Manish Tewari, Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai told Lok Sabha on March 15 that his government had received the Rajasthan Protection From Lynching Bill, 2019 and the Manipur Protection from Mob Violence Bill, 2018. “After consultation with the nodal ministries/departments, certain clarifications have been sought from Government of Rajasthan and Government of Manipur on October 12, 2021 and November 18, 2021 respectively,” he stated, adding that the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) did not maintain data under heading ‘hate speech’.
Lynching is not defined as a crime under the Indian Penal Code," Rai explained. “In 2017, NCRB collected data on cases of mob lynching, hate crimes etc. But it was observed that the data was unreliable," he further added.
The NCRB decided to stop collecting data on lynchings and mob violence in 2017, the Ministry of Home Affairs had told the Lok Sabha on December 15, 2021.
In recent years, the country has witnessed people getting assaulted and killed over rumours and fake news, for food preferences and allegedly hurting religious sentiments.
While delivering the judgement in Tehseen S. Poonawalla Vs. Union of India on July 17, 2018, the Supreme Court described lynchings as a “sweeping phenomenon of mob violence".
A three-judge bench, comprising the then Chief Justice Dipak Misra and Justices AM Khanwilkar and DY Chandrachud, had set out preventive, remedial and punitive measures for the Central and state governments as well as law enforcement agencies.
In July 2017, the National Campaign Against Mob Lynching prepared a draft of Maanav Suraksha Kanoon (MASUKA) in the backdrop of rising mob lynching cases. It was drafted by the senior Supreme Court lawyers, Sanjay Hegde, Anas Tanwir and Pranjal Kishore.
“The incidents are happening with the tacit support of those who are supposed to uphold the rule of law,” Hegde told Outlook. “If the government is firm in its desire, the incidents of lynching can be controlled. But if it continues to be in denial, then it is only encouraging the incidents by treating lynchings as simple murders.”
About the recent ‘Dharam Sansads’ from where threats were hurled at the minorities, he said, “The calls for genocide reflect the unchecked lynch mindset.”
Human rights activist Kavita Srivastava referred to the recent incidents of targeted violence against Muslims and said, “The proposed laws are unlikely to see the light of the day owing to explicit majoritarian consensus and implicit support of the middle class.”