Vigilantism in Dimapur

March 09, 2015 01:43 am | Updated November 16, 2021 05:14 pm IST

When mobs take the law into their own hands, a common justification is to cite India’s slow and often biased judicial system. This was not one of those cases. Ten days after a reported rape in Dimapur, Nagaland, a >mob broke into the city ’s Central Jail, dragged Syed Farid Khan, the man accused of having committed the crime, into the streets of the city, and stripped, beat and lynched him, all the while filming the crime on their phones. There was no delayed justice, no compromised police force, no shocking acquittal here, yet the mob decided to kill a man who merely stood accused of a crime. The fact that the deceased was a Muslim — or a “Bangladeshi”, as has become the shorthand in large parts of India including its northeast — was central to the mob’s fury. Using violence to act out caste and religious hatred has a long and inglorious history in India, and sexual violence too frequently has underpinnings of caste and religious hatred to it.

A society’s violence and bigotries do not exist in silos, yet India has made the dangerous mistake of beginning to address its sexual violence problem as if it were a localised infection rather than a metastasising cancer. Respecting the rule of law is as important when condemning a rapist’s actions as it is when condemning those of a murderous mob. A society that believes that every woman, irrespective of her moral or sexual choices, has the right to her own body, must also believe that a person, irrespective of the crime he is accused of, has the right to the due process of law. One that believes in meting out its own version of subjective ‘justice’ is equally likely to condone a father killing his daughter for having premarital sex as it is to encourage the murder of a suspected rapist. It would be wrong to see this act of mob ‘justice’ as a response to India’s heightened revulsion of rape; it is in fact to be seen as a part of India’s growing violence and lawlessness which has so diminished and endangered the lives of its women. The mob in Dimapur did not make its streets safer for women; it made its air more dangerous for everyone. The new conversation that India began in December 2012 should have led to a re-evaluation of all our bigotries and prejudices, all the demons within; instead, an incomplete revolution has taken place, one that may do as much harm as good, and is no closer to a fuller idea of justice. The brutal vigilantism of the kind that was witnessed in the Dimapur killing does India no good any more than the crude misogynist remarks of the defence lawyers in the >India’s Daughter documentary.

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