Loss of innocents: on the wave of lynchings in Tamil Nadu

Three recent incidents of lynching in Tamil Nadu, unrelated except for the mindless violence and brutality, are grim reminders of the power a mob can wield. While arrests have been made in all three cases, and warnings issued by law enforcement authorities, the incidents are a cause for pause. On Wednesday night, a mob in Pulicat, north of Chennai, beat up a 45-year-old homeless man. They woke him up as he slept on a bridge, beat him up and then hung him from it. Villagers justified this by saying they thought he was a child kidnapper. Earlier, about 240 km south of Pulicat, a 55-year-old woman, who had gone with her relatives to a village in Tiruvannamalai district in search of a temple, was beaten to death. Her companions were injured. While asking a villager for directions, she had shared chocolates with children playing nearby. Locals say they mistook this as the action of kidnappers trying to lure children, and chased the car the group was travelling in to thrash them. In end-April, a 30-year-old north Indian man died in a town in Vellore district after he was beaten up by residents who mistook him for a burglar. Such instances of mob madness require a firm response from the police, one that signals that those who dispense such ‘instant justice’ will be severely punished. Equally, there needs to be continued responsiveness on the part of the local administrations in dealing with anxiety and suspicion in local communities.

The police say the trigger for the lynchings could be a rash of xenophobic messages circulating on WhatsApp warning that “north Indians” are looking to kidnap children in Tamil Nadu. They subsequently issued warnings that strict action would be taken against those who forward such messages, including by invoking the Goondas Act. At least one rumour-monger has been arrested. The social media, by its very nature, enables the unchallenged dissemination of unverified information, and its regulation presents a challenge to law enforcement. It is important to analyse such incidents to understand the underlying anxieties and the drift of trouble-making attempts. While fear-mongering is typically undertaken on social media, the counter-information campaign needs to be publicly broadcast and confidence fostered at the level of the police station so that residents feel free to approach the authorities to verify the messages or seek protection. But the signal must also be sent out in no uncertain terms that lynchings amount to murder or attempt to murder. Mobs are amorphous units that confer anonymity on perpetrators, emboldening them, on the spur of the moment, to collectively commit vile acts without a sense of individual guilt. The state needs to break this pattern through demonstrable action against perpetrators, and widely disseminate news of action taken against the guilty.

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Printable version | Jun 14, 2021 11:23:18 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/loss-of-innocents/article23857175.ece

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