It is a matter of shame for the Union Government and several State governments that the Supreme Court has had to remind them of their “consistent failure” in the past five years to act against the lynching of and mob violence against Muslims and marginalised sections by “cow vigilantes” in particular. Following a petition by the National Federation of Indian Women highlighting this failure, the Court has asked the Ministry of Home Affairs, Maharashtra, Odisha, Rajasthan, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Haryana to respond to it. In 2018, the Court, in Tehseen S. Poonawalla vs Union of India, had held that it was the “sacrosanct duty” of the state to protect the lives of its citizens and that the authorities have the “principal obligation” to prevent “vigilantism” of any kind. It had come up with guidelines which included the designation of a nodal [police] officer in each district, who, with the identification of districts/blocks/villages where mob violence and lynching have occurred in recent years, and the help of police intelligence, would work towards tackling such incidence in coordination with other government agencies. They were also to be aided by the initiative of the Home Ministry and State governments in sensitising law enforcement officials and warning the public about the consequences of engaging in mob violence or vigilantism, among other measures.
That lynching, mob violence and “cow vigilantism” — an incorrect euphemism for criminals engaging in wanton violence against minorities for the purported reason of transporting cattle for slaughter or cattle meat — still happen since the judgment and little has been done by the Union government or the States in question, especially in north India, points to the nonchalance of the governments. It does not take deductive powers to note that the ideology of the Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre and in many of these States that allows for the stereotyping and demonising of the minorities has also played into this. Besides vigilantism, social and economic boycott of the minority community have also taken root in States where they receive political patronage. The Court is right in issuing orders to agencies of the state in holding them to account for the non-implementation of the guidelines in the 2018 judgment. However, it requires no less than concerted civil society action to tackle the menace of mob violence and “vigilantism” by sensitising people towards fraternal relations with other communities and avoiding typecasting them as the “other”. In Tamil Nadu, for example, where, historically, secular and rational movements were active, such incidents are rare. And if they do occur, dominant political representatives face outrage from civil society. Preventing atrocities of the kind that mob violence wreaks on ordinary citizens cannot be left to just judicial fiat.