20 JULY 2018
Lynching & the law
Supreme Court order highlights the bigotry and prejudice behind the mob violence
The Supreme Court order calling for a special law to deal with lynching sends a strong message about the growing phenomenon of mob violence. From vigilante violence targeting cattle traders in the name of cow protection, it has taken a new turn. While the former was organised vigilantism, the recent spate of killings seemingly comprises impulsive and unplanned acts of violence, fuelled by rumour and panic-inducing social media messaging. Last year the apex court reminded the Centre and the States they cannot remain silent while vigilantes take the law into their own hands in the name of cow protection. It asked all States to appoint nodal officers in each district to curb mobs. While the incidence of lynching and violence committed by self-styled gau rakshaks appear to have reduced since then, the killing and attacks on those mistaken to be child-kidnappers have had a disquieting rise. The police say the circulation of videos and other messages about child-lifters through messaging apps is the main reason. In its 45-page order, theSupreme Court has significantly located lynching and vigilante violence in a socio-political framework linked to disrespect for an inclusive social order, rising intolerance and growing polarisation. There is an implicit indictment of the preponderant mood of the times when it says that “hate crimes as a product of intolerance, ideological dominance and prejudice ought not to be tolerated”.
Besides directing specific preventive, punitive and remedial measures, a three-judge Bench headed by the Chief Justice of India has mooted the idea of making lynching a separate offence. It says a special law would “instil a sense of fear” among those involved. Whether a special law is enough to ensure a greater level of deterrence is open to question, especially so when murder and mob violence are covered by existing provisions. But in sending this message out, the apex court has ensured that the issue cannot be brushed under the carpet and, ipso facto, has forced those who govern us to pay special attention towards curbing this madness. Any legislation though should be comprehensive, covering not only incidents of lynching, but also the extent to which criminality can be apportioned among rumour-mongers, instigators, principal offenders and those who are accessories to the crime. Whether it must penalise (and if so how) those who do nothing to stop such crimes or help bring the offenders to book, is another issue worth considering. The judgment places the onus on the law and order machinery to prevent and punish lynchings. But we must heed what it says on the role of bigotry, non-acceptance of plurality and diversity in creating an atmosphere where human beings are dehumanised: one in which freedom of speech, expression and personal choices are endangered.
Israel’s ‘nation state’ law undermines its Arab minority and obstructs the peace process
The ‘nation state’ law passed by Israel’s Parliament amid strong protests by Opposition lawmakers, has raised concerns about its commitment to peace in the region. The legislation, which will become one of Israel’s powerful Basic Laws that have constitutional status, lays down that “Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it”. The law strips Arabic, the first language of 1.8 million citizens, of its national language status; states that Jerusalem, “whole and united”, is its capital; and vows to “promote and encourage” the establishment and consolidation of Jewish settlements, which it sees as a national value. Supporters of the Bill say it is aimed to boost Israel’s Jewish identity and will not discriminate against minorities. But the reality looks more complicated in Israel and the occupied territories. As it is, the Arab community, which makes up a fifth of Israel’s population, faces discrimination when it comes to opportunities and rights. The Israeli right’s anti-minority politics is no secret. By providing exclusive right to national self-determination only to the Jewish people and by downgrading Arabic’s status, the law sends a clear message. For decades, the Israeli far-right sought Jewishness as the ethnic religious character of the state. The new Basic Law sets the stage for that transition, challenging the basic concepts of equality, which even Israel’s declaration of independence promised to all its inhabitants. Arab MPs have called the legislation racist and a form of apartheid aimed at creating two systems within one country.
The emphasis on Jerusalem and the promise to promote settlements pose a direct threat to any peace process with the Palestinians. Jerusalem remains a disputed territory, with Palestinians seeing its eastern part as the capital of their future state. Israel’s claim over the city remains a key point of dispute between the two sides. Besides, if Israel sees Jewish settlements as a national value and continues to promote them in the Palestinian territories, it cannot command confidence when it says it is still committed to the two-state solution. The law further erodes the credibility of Israel’s professed support of an independent Palestinian state. Israel has just passed two other pieces of legislation — one places limits on Palestinians under occupation in accessing Israel’s High Court, and the other bans individuals and groups seeking political action against the country or the prosecution of Israeli soldiers abroad, from entering Israeli school premises. Together, these laws allow the Israeli state to institutionalise discrimination against the minorities at home, deepen occupation in the Palestinian territories and stifle even the limited rights of the Palestinians living under occupation.