Mobocracy in Post-Covid Assam

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Photo: India Today

By Sabreen Ahmed

In a post-Covid and digitized age, where the ecology declines and social evils increase, the innate barbarian tendencies of human behaviour are on the rise. ‘Mob lynching’ is one of them. The act of mob lynching is a reflection of a depraved mob psychology, in the name of vigilant groups and regulating bands. Of late it is an offshoot of a deep-seated socio-political, class and cultural turmoil often exhibited by people with inferior intellect belonging to the lower economic strata. Their emotions are often triggered at the alarming pretexts of socio-economic and cultural insecurity in a world of disequilibrium where social reality is a clichéd representation of capitalized profits and socialized losses.

The term mob derives from the Latin word ‘mobile vulgus’, meaning excitable crowd. Lynching is a form of provocative vengeance with fatal consequences. Mobocracy gains predominance when they develop a mistrust for the legally institutionalized forces such as police and courts for enacting justice. The mob takes power in its own hands to set things right with violence in the absence of formal recourse to justice. Mobocracy is a sadist version of the rule of the people that threatens the peaceful democratic structures of a nation-state. According to a Reuters report, a total of 63 cow vigilante attacks occurred in India between 2010 and mid-2017. In these attacks, “28 Indians – 24 of them Muslims – were killed and 124 injured.” The Rajasthan Assembly passed an Anti-Lynching Bill after the much-debated Pahlu Khan lynching case in 2017 by a mob of self-styled Gau Rakshaks who were eventually acquitted.

Mob unrest and mob protest are often politically charged with anti-establishment agenda in favour of the people, e.g. the recent unrest in America over the killing of George Floyd, imbued with both conservative and liberal interpretations. However, there needs be a conceptual clarity between mob unrest, mob protest and mob lynching. The current cases of mob lynching in Assam don’t have a liberal populist agenda. In the first incident, Sanatan Deka, a middle-aged vegetable vendor, was beaten to death by five people after his bicycle hit a two-wheeler in Kamrup district on 24 April 2020. The second incident occurred at Gabharu Parbat area near Mariani in Jorhat district on 29 May 2020, when two friends Debashish Gogoi (22) and Aditya Das (22) from Nakachari, a small township, were brutally beaten by a mob of hundreds of people from a nearby tea-garden leaving them grievously injured. One of them later succumbed to injuries at JMCH. Meanwhile, the police confirmed the arrest of four people. They said a case had been registered and their investigation was on. A suspected Bangladeshi cattle smuggler was lynched in Karimganj district of Assam on 2 June, while his accomplice was arrested.

Mob violence has led to the deaths of hundreds of people in recent years in different parts of the country, mostly mobilized after hearing misinformation spread on digital platforms, particularly on WhatsApp. In June 2019, Tabrez Ansari was killed by a mob of more than ten people in Jharkhand after being accused of stealing a motorcycle and was forced to chant Hindu slogans, ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and ‘Jai Hanuman’. In September 2019, a man was lynched by a mob in the state of West Bengal. The mob reportedly believed that he was a child abductor. The month of August 2019 saw 20 cases of mob violence in the state of Uttar Pradesh in just three days. Though mob lynching has often been recorded as a crime against Muslims and Dalits, recent developments show a different trend. On 16 April 2020, a vigilante mob lynched two Hindu ascetics and their driver in Gadchinchale Village in the Palghar district of Maharastra. In the highly trolled Palghar case of mob lynching, 156 accused have been arrested by CID till now, out of which 10 are juvenile. None of the convicts has been found to belong to the Muslim community.

The recent cases of lynching in post-Covid Assam are a reflection of class-based attack, traumatizing an already scared public in the times of corona. On 8 June 2018, the digitized state of Assam was gripped by a fear psychosis following the mob killing of two youths Abhijit and Nilutpol by locals at a place called Dokmoka in Karbi Anglong District. On February 24, almost two years after the trial began in 2018, the district judge Amiruddin Ahmed convicted 12 of the accused for lynching the teenager and acquitted four of them. Two others – Barlong Terang and Gibson Timung – have been absconding since the incident, while another person was tried by a court for juveniles. The sentence was pronounced under five relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code. Currently Assam has been witnessing more such barbaric cases of mob killings, adding to social anxiety along with the pandemic paranoia. The Leader of the Opposition has written a letter to the Governor of Assam on 3 June, 2020 to end mobocracy in Assam and has pressurized the current government to make stringent laws against the same.

There are numerous studies on mob psychology following the American Civil War as part of Abolitionist literature which clearly show that mob psychology is not  merely a ‘sectionalist phenomenon’ but have political ramifications. Studies on crowd behaviour reveal alternative and liberating spaces of discourse analysis on mob violence where the mob reactions are studied as a mode of release of suppressed fear or anger against a paedophile or a kidnapper or a notorious bandicoot. There is another theory that believes that mob lynching takes place because of a desire to dispense ‘instant justice’. This implies that a society feels duty-bound to intervene in certain matters without even understanding the issue. According to the psychologist and the Supreme Court advocate, Anuja Trehan Kapur: “Lynching happens when a mob gets together and they feel that they have a responsibility towards society and that the police or any administrative body can’t do justice to that responsibility.”

The act of taking the law into one’s own hands as a vindictive action of wild justice can never be the solution to any social problem. The need of the hour is to have social sensitization and an Anti-Lynching Bill for the state to check the growing menace of mobocracy in post-Covid Assam.

Bio:
Dr. Sabreen Ahmed (PhD, JNU), Assistant Professor at Nowgong College, Nagaon, Assam.

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Read the latest issue of Cafe Dissensus Magazine, “Poetics and politics of the ‘everyday’: Engaging with India’s northeast”, edited by Bhumika R, IIT Jammu and Suranjana Choudhury, NEHU, India.

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