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Palghar: Communalism or Vigilantism

Updated: May 18, 2020

India is undoubtedly a diverse nation. With hundreds of religions and an innumerous number of castes. But with diversity comes it's inevitable communal differences. Being a secular nation, Indians are entitled to the right to practice and propagate and profess their religion, this is granted under Article 25 of the Constitution upholding the morals of Secularism.

When diversity is one of the defining characteristics of our country there is bound to be communal tensions between the people of different communities. It is inevitable considering the different teachings of each community and the beliefs among the people which cannot and are not the constant. However, any conflict between two people who are of different religions or communities cannot be criticized on the basis of diversity or communalism.

There have been instances such as the lynching case in Dhule on the 1st of July 2018 when a mob believed that the victims were members of a child abduction racket. In this given case, there was no question of religion, rather it was a matter of the ideology of the mob. An ideology where they believed that they had a higher social obligation in dealing with the crisis rather than reporting it to the appropriate authorities. Lynching is an extrajudicial affair where the mob believes that the power lies in their hands rather than the reach of the judiciary and the law enforcement bodies.

Inevitably there have been cases of mob lynching on the basis of the Religion. For instance, the Islampur case of 2017 where 3 Muslim men were killed for alleged stealing of cattle. This is where the element of communalism and conflicting beliefs play a decisive role. The bone of contention arises in this given instance on the slaughter of cattle. According to Articles 48 through 51-A(g)of the Constitution of India gives the animals their own Fundamental Rights with Article 48 specifically directing the state to have the endeavour to prohibit the slaughter of cows and other draught cattle. The opposition argues that the right to slaughter cattle is a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. This is a long continuing argument that hopes to see a conclusive end.

Presently, the nation is divided due the Citizenship Amendment Act which is paired with the National Register of Citizens. Some call it unconstitutional while the others call it bold and praiseworthy. This amendment is seen to be a point of conflict between two major communities. The spread of COVID-19 has certainly neutralized the situation for now, but with the passage of time the tensions that are already prevalent, just increase. The violence in the month of February on the streets of North East Delhi are still fresh in the minds of people. Unfortunately, there also exists a vast majority of people who believe in the politicizing of ordinary news into something that they can use in their favour in terms of a political opinion or a point to undermine another community and demean the beliefs of other such individuals.

The incident in Palghar took place on the 16th of April 2020, where two Sadhus and their driver were lynched by a mob. Speculators instantly believed that this lynching was caused by the Muslims because there were two Sadhus who had been lynched. However, in a report of the FIR, out of the 101 villagers, 9 juveniles and the 2 policemen who had been arrested, there were a total of zero Muslims involved in this lynching. According to the facts that lay in the evidence, it would be preliminary to rule out ‘communalism’ as a cause of the lynching. Sadly, this was ‘communalised’ by certain people in the media trying to prove the fact that the situation was perpetuated against the Hindu Sadhus. There are people who would pounce on any such opportunity to cause a divide among two very different sects of the society to satisfy their own beliefs and understandings without taking into account factors like tolerance and mutual coexistence.

The situation in Palghar was a classic case of mob lynching when the mob believed that they had to be the first response to a crime that was about to be committed, the victims were a couple of men who turned out to be the Sadhus. There were rumours of a group of men around the village who were allegedly child abductors, and the crowd was convinced that it was their duty to deal with the situation before reporting this to the authorities. These rumours were spread on an instant messaging application. If they were indeed right in their instincts, they would have been titled as heroes. Their common intention was to act upon the greater good of the society. This line of reasoning may be accounted as fair in the question of morality, but the system that is followed around the world is legality. The question arises whether their act was legal, and the answer is that it was not legal. There are no provisions under the Constitution that would allow a citizen to take law in their own hand and carry out a punishment against a certain individual. Every corrective measure in terms of punishment is ordered by the court in a fair trial. The citizens of India have been protected against lynching under Section 304 of the Indian Penal Code that highlights culpable homicide. This paired with ‘The Protection from Lynching Act of 2017’ ensures that the citizens are safe from any such act of aggression.

The fact of the matter that might be the true and the only cause of this lynching has not been brought up as much as it should be spoken about. The question arises about ‘Fake News’. Fake news is something that gets published on an almost daily basis. Fake news comprises those forwards that people read on their instant messaging applications that have no credible source of publication. It was the same type of news that caused an unlawful extrajudicial activity in Dhule. It is this very type of news that incited violence among the villagers and the group from Palghar. Fake news can be minor in a situation of a miscommunication of a case, but at the same time can cause major damage in the form of incitement of violence. Incitement of violence is something that is punishable under Section 153 and Section 505 of the Indian Penal Code.

The present situation is that three men lost their lives in an attack that had been incited by fake news on an instant messaging application without fair trial and fair legal procedure. This lynching was later advocated to be a sign of communalism which was an excuse for the bigots to raise their voice against a particular community. But what people fail to address is the role of fake news behind this incident and the consequences they have on society.

Author : Aviral Bhardwaj

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