CAUSE for serious concern should be read into the rising number of cases of mob violence in Pakistan. There have been several instances where incensed individuals, often egged on by malicious elements, have united under perceived common grievances to take the law into their own hands. One such incident, too heartbreaking to be forgotten, was that of two brothers being beaten to death by an enraged mob near Sialkot in August 2010. Now we learn that on Wednesday, a large number of protesters gathered in Lahore’s Ravi Road area after rumours of an act of blasphemy started swirling, and turned violent. Holding off both police and the fire brigade, they set alight three buildings of a private school — whose staff was implicated in allegations of blasphemy — and torched the owner’s car. Reports suggest that activists of some religious groups were among the mob, no doubt adding fuel to the fire.
Whether or not blasphemy was actually committed is a matter for investigators acting under the mandate of the law to decide. What is undeniable, however, is that vigilante action is simply unwarranted in the context of any norm of justice or, indeed, of civilisation itself. Regardless of the enormity of the perceived provocation, under no circumstances can individuals or groups be allowed to take it upon themselves to deliver their version of ‘justice’. Such incidents constitute dangerous precedents and only embolden future offenders that nurse anarchic tendencies. To avoid sending out the signal that the state and its justice system are either blind to or tolerant of such behaviour, the administration must act fast — and come down with a heavy hand on the perpetrators. The ringleaders of the mob need to be identified, investigated and prosecuted, sending out the message in no uncertain terms that the law will not stand by while citizens’ rights are violated by those who have no authority to act in the matter. In the case of the Sialkot lynching, several men were eventually sentenced to vary-ing degrees by an anti-terrorism court last year. A similar procedure needs to be initiated and expedited in terms of the Ravi Road arson too.