An incident took place on Wednesday (4-8-21), when hundreds of people vandalized the Hindu temple in Bhong, Rahimyar Khan. This is not the first mob attack on a Hindu temple in Pakistan. In 2019, a mob vandalized three temples, and damaged a school and houses belonging to the Hindu community in Ghotki, Sindh (The Diplomat, September 23, 2019). In 2020, a violent religious mob set fire to a Hindu temple in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region and attempted to tear it to the ground (The Guardian, December 30, 2020). Considering the increasing rate in mob lynching cases in Pakistan, it would not be wrong to say that mob lynching will soon be our national crime. These lynching events bring disgrace and shame to Pakistan, not only nationally but also internationally.
Lynching as a phenomenon can be seen as an act in which people in society choose to take law into their own hands to punish a suspected criminal, or simply a person who violates or challenges the status quo of the society. Lynching reveals the brutality of the individual. Mob lynching represents the cold and calculated actions of the perpetrators, their mentality, their thought processes, because they think they can lynch anyone anywhere and they cannot be punished. It forces us to think about why people do not think about it before committing such brutal acts of lynching. The answer is simple; they openly acknowledge that there is an unwritten law that justifies them for their barbaric deeds. Mob lynching has become a very serious threat to the well-being of our society. As a method, lynching is an inhuman act of indescribable horror. There is an absolute force asymmetry. It is an individual against a crowd, an individual begging for his life and often helpless with no choice but to subject himself to the misery of the crowd.
Law is the only instrument to judge the actions of citizens. No one will be punished until convicted by law. But the rapid increase in lynching clearly reflects the idea that people are taking over the law. Lynchers do justice to themselves by punishing those they suspect have committed a crime against society as they see fit. Driven by their own sense of right and wrong, they eventually behave barbarically. Sometimes a serious murder can be the end result of such incidents.
At present the cases of mob lynching are tried under different sections of Pakistan’s Penal Code and Anti-terrorism Act, 1997 but punishment for mob lynching is not specific and as there is no codified law dealing with mob lynching delivering justice which is satisfactory and non-questionable, that is without any ambiguity and lacuna in respect of mob lynching is almost impossible.
We must understand that a particular branch of law can never be self-sustaining; laws must be developed and evolve with the need of the hour, and a strict and independent lynching law is the most urgent need of the time. Existing laws and legal framework are inadequate for lynching. There is an urgent need for a concrete and binding law. The government at the time did not understand the seriousness of the matter and ignored the call for stricter and more specific laws.
There is a need to codify the substantive law relating to mob lynching under the umbrella of one uniformed act and to develop effective legal provisions for the reporting, investigation and prosecution of such offences. This will result in the criminal justice process becoming more responsive. A special law will remove any ambiguity about lynching. A special law will provide the mechanism for dealing with cases of mob lynching that are not provided for in the current law. The new act will define lynching, legally define a violent Mob attack, make lynching and mob violence as non-bailable offences, victim compensation and rehabilitation, speedy investigative proceedings and speedy trials. An implementation of the new anti-lynching act will improve substantive laws relating to mob lynching in Pakistan. The new act will mandate legislative reforms and will result in a more effective, responsive and speedy criminal justice system in combating mob lynching in Pakistan.
Mob lynching is the greatest social enemy of the civil society. Society must understand that change is the only constant; we need to apply new laws to combat these acts of lynching. It is the right time to understand the seriousness of the situation and start a constructive debate on mob violence and the necessary laws. The fundamental need of basic gaze upward into the issue and do the needful can’t be squeezed any more, it is high time now the State shall take some serious actions against the culprits of lynching. The Parliament shall enact a new law to provide a definite and strict punishment against the offence of lynching to make Pakistan a lynching free country.
The writer is a research scholar LL.D (Public Law) and is serving as a lecturer at Lahore Leads University’s Department of Law. He can be reached at [email protected].