Mob mentality

20 Aug 2019


“MEN, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one,” a Scottish journalist wrote in the 19th century. In modern-day South Asia, we have witnessed the insanity of the herd, time and again, whenever it rears its ugly head. In the most recent instance, a 16-year-old child, accused of stealing, was beaten to death by a mob in Karachi’s Bahadurabad neighbourhood. He was stripped off his clothes and had his entire ordeal filmed on camera. This was not the first episode of its kind, and it is unlikely to be the last either. Who can forget the public killing in 2010 of two young brothers, Mughees and Muneeb, lynched on the streets of Sialkot with the police urging on the mob, while a crowd of spectators watched? Or the lynching of a Christian couple, Shama and Shehzad, accused of blasphemy by rabid villagers in Kot Radha Kishan, in 2014? Or the murder of Mashal Khan — a bright, young man full of promise — by his fellow students at Mardan University in 2017?

When face to face with an enraged mass, individuals stand little chance of survival, let alone of getting justice. The names and locations of the victims may change, but what all these incidents point to is the brutalisation of society and a seething anger and frustration in the public psyche exacerbated by the steady erosion of its faith in the state’s justice system. But that is no excuse for the violence perpetrated by the collective against vulnerable others, and that too on the mere basis of accusation. Perpetrators of this recent act of violence in Karachi have been booked under the Anti-Terrorism Act, which some argue is not the appropriate definition for the crime. Nevertheless, those who take the law into their own hands to brutalise others deserve harsh punishment to make it clear there is no place for mob ‘justice’ in civilised societies.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2019