Who is the Criminal?
If vigilantism can enrich democracy, an overdose of it can also open the floodgates to a State where it may be difficult to control the ramifications. A recent gruesome incident that took place in Orissa is noteworthy in this context. That, in fact, played the reminder for all that we, especially the media, need to take note of.
There is, of course, no hitch in complimenting people today for the growing awareness in asserting their rights or punishing the guilty, but taking law into hands with an overriding passion that culminates in a kind of ghastly end-result, is not comprehensible.
What happened last week in Baripada, in Mayurbhanj district of Orissa, was an ugly aberration of a few minds who may be advocating self assertion with a criminal vengeance. About seven people from a tribe called the Lodhas entered a village and stole some utensils, mosquito-nets and a few toilet soaps. An incident of petty theft by any account.
The local people, those who have the usual refrain about such frequent thefts in the villages by the Lodhas, caught the seven thieves, herded them to a place and started beating them. Going by the eyewitness accounts, the group was beaten so brutally that they hardly had any strength to either resist or escape.
Reduced, almost, to living corpses the seven were later thrown by the so-called vigilant mob in the nearby forest. They were left abandoned there for hours before the police came to the rescue and took them to the nearby hospital. It was within a matter of hours that their breathings became less frequent and less intense. Three of them died the same day to be followed by the fourth one soon, who perished in the hospital. Rest three managed to survive, just.
The issue we need to debate here is, that the blow by blow account of the acts of brutality by the ruthless mob is not something that can be condoned by any yardstick of human probity. It has brought vigilantism to a state where it can really impair the life security of one and all. And the law and order machinery, whose tardiness has brought about a state where people could resort to such extremes, has so far done nothing more than some fig-leaf probes.
Sadly, a section of the media, that has gone gaga to glorify the horrifying act, has become painfully miserly to question the brutality of the perpetrators of the spine-chilling crime. Secondly, instead of barraging the police with questions, as to why people have not been brought to book for the murderous acts, it has taken resort in upholding the incident as a sign of vigil among the common men. The police that can punish a hand-cuffed accused of minor offence with a bulldog resolve, has been soft-pedalling on this issue.
Ironically, the Lodha tribe in Mayurbhanj, which had weathered the worst of the plunder unleashed by the British during the pre-independence period and, subsequently, were deprived of their moorings in the forests and had no other means to livelihood than stealing etc, were ultimately pushed to a kind of moral bondage, with nothing left to do and branded as a ‘criminal tribe’. It is not to say that the theft should have gone unpunished but the <i>Talibani</i> approach to the entire issue was just inhumane.
Days after the above incident, in a village near Balasore, two youth were thrashed to death for the alleged rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl from the same village. The crime was indeed barbaric and it deserved the most stringent punishment. But not through a cold-blooded act of beating and stoning the two to death. Such kind of incidents are being witnessed for the past few years not just in Orissa but in many parts of the country with unfailing regularity. And all this is happening in a country which so far has had an impeccable human rights record. Either beating someone to death or dragging one tied to a motor cycle and inflicting his body with kicks are something unimaginable in any civilised society.
We need to take a closer look at such incidents that are completely detached from the elements of sensitivity. Just because the law and order machinery suffers from a lackadaisical mindset or remains insensitive to the problems the people face, we cannot allow ourselves to sit on the judgement chair and select punishments of such sinister nature.