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28 October, 2019 10:45:25 AM

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Where is the justice in mob ‘justice’?

Mob violence is indiscriminate, it can happen for any reason and to anyone, and until we do something to stop the surge of vigilante style justice in this country, none of us will be safe
Syed Mehdi Momin
Where is the justice in mob ‘justice’?

In Bhola recently a hacked Facebook account, used to spread a comment to hurt religious sentiment, resulted in such anarchy that where four persons had to lose their lives. This goes to show that when it comes to religious issues, some people here are driven by blind passion and not by reason.

It was revealed that the person whose name was used reported to the police station that his Facebook ID had been tampered with. Earlier too there have been incidents instigated by malicious sectors to destabilise society. Many commentators are stressing that the people, before reacting should first ascertain if the social media post is by a real person or the diabolic act of a hacker.
However the important question here is that does anything justify people taking the law into their hands and create trouble? No, not in a civilised world it does not.   To be law-abiding means they have full confidence in the law of the land. As such, people must leave the matter of maintaining law and order to the law-enforcing agencies of the country.
If anyone is offended by a post or an Op Ed article for that matter they can go to the court for redressal. In any even having so thin skin and getting so easily offended is not athe sign of a health people.
In Bangladesh the mobs often take law into their own hands, betraying their lack of trust in the law-enforcing organs of the state. People are now saying that enough is enough and are developing social resistance against these kinds of lawless acts by the mobs. This also good sign, when the law-enforcers were up to the task and handled the case firmly..

This incident should act as a warning to all those who speak indiscriminately and glowingly of community justice, or believe that “the people” should decide on matters of crime and punishment or other social issues.

Instances of mob violence strike at the very core of a civilised society. They must be tackled head-on, without any excuses. Thos who indulge in mob violence must be brought to justice at the earliest. Yes, it is difficult to prosecute mobs, as countless instances of languishing riot cases show, but it is imperative to make a strong statement, if the state is to regain the public's trust. The people must be told that no mob, no matter how large, is above the law of the land, and the state is capable of enforcing the law.

Mob justice is not just a sudden outburst of uncontrolled fury, or the unspeakable brutality of an insane crowd. It is the direct result of the persistent inability of our legal systems to conclusively resolve so many criminal cases properly or fairly. Increasing cases of mob justice are being reported where people take matters into their own hands. A few years back, six alleged robbers in the Noakhali area, southern Bangladesh, were beaten to death by a mob. There was another case where six students were beaten to death at Keblar Char, near Gabtoli. Police initially branded the victims as robbers but went back on their claims following media reports.

I am not sure whether we have any correct statistics on how many cases of such killings have taken place since our independence. In all probability, we will never know how many innocent people had to die in this manner. And such deaths will never stop until and unless the law-enforcing agencies steps in to ensure that mobs are under no circumstances able to take law into their own hands and commit such barbarity.

The human race has spent centuries developing legal and judicial systems. What is the purpose of the system of trial if not to sift facts and come to the truth? All of it is based on centuries’ worth of human experience. All of it is designed to prevent innocent people from being punished for crimes they did not do and to serve an appropriate penalty on those found guilty of wrongdoing. While some would say in today’s environment when the conviction rate is so low, the vigilantes must not be blamed. This writer begs to differ. A civilised society simply cannot condone the attitude of anyone who would seek to ignore the plain truth: no one can be judge jury and executioner over another. No one should take it upon themselves to kill or maim another human being. Two wrongs do not make a right.

I am not sure whether we have any correct statistics on how many cases of such killings have taken place since our independence. In all probability, we will never know how many innocent people had to die in this manner. And very unfortunately such deaths will never stop until and unless the law-enforcing agencies step in to ensure that an individual vigilante or mobs under no circumstances able to take law into their own hands and commit barbaric acts. Unfortunately rarely do the onlookers or the common people in general care to show any sympathy for such victims. We know that more often than not the police prefer to look away when such violence takes place in their presence. What holds the police back from preventing the ghastly incidents is anybody's guess. The story of the police's non-committal role does not end here. There are instances when the police tried to dismiss such brutal incidents as the spontaneous outburst of the people's wrath on the criminals. Put differently, does that mean to say that whatever the mob has done to establish its own style of "justice" is nothing very serious to worry about? In that case, what is then the need for maintaining the law-enforcement department under the state, if the mob has the freedom to take care of the law?

Yes people do get angry when they see criminals getting away scot-free more often than not. But while public anger is justified, violence is simply counter-productive. Historically speaking, mob mentality has been known to spread havoc rather than bring a positive change in society.

Public disgrace and shaming of people who are termed as “offenders” is not only outside of the social and legal sanction ,it also fuels an anarchist and regressive mindset. During a mob formation, there is absolutely no regulation of unruly behaviour of each participant and this can lead to extreme miscommunication between them. The exact details of whatever is happening around the mob participants can be very unclear due to the unchecked rage and sentiments. This can lead to huge injustices and unnecessary assaults on innocent people. While it is true that rage and anger is useful in initiating important revolutions, it needs to be in adequate doses which can be channelized in positive ways.

There are reasons why laws exist in society. No civilided society can afford to allow mob rule to replace the rule of law. Frankly speaking mob justice can take care of one or two cases at best but effective legal action on the other hand can help in questioning and changing the unequal distribution of power in our society. It is important to bring a paradigm shift and restructure the patriarchal society instead of resorting to temporary and reactionary justice methods. Mob violence is indiscriminate, it can happen for any reason and to anyone, and until we do something to stop the surge of vigilante style justice in this country, none of us will be safe.

The government must invest in strengthening judicial and police institutions; establishing the rule of law has to be given priority over everything else. The legitimacy of any government depends on the rule of law, which requires establishing policing and judicial institutions that are effective, fair and transparent. Educating the public about how courts work and the principle that people are innocent until proven guilty, and visible policing, are some of the things to begin with.

In seeking justice, society must temper vengeance with reform. A mob is the method by which good citizens turn over law and governance to the criminal or irresponsible classes.

Petty crimes should be dealt with at the magisterial level to lessen the burden of the lower judiciary; petty criminals should be reformed by community service and not by serving jail time, as this will only add unnecessary burden on the judicial system and the national exchequer. The state must proactively take urgent steps to restore people’s faith in the system before it is too late and geopolitical stability is threatened by a charged mob ready to bring down the government, resulting in anarchy and chaos.

The writer is the Senior Assistant Editor of The Independent and can be

contacted at: syed.mehdi@theindependentbd.com

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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