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In terror of the mob

January 14, 2013

THE violent phenomenon of mob justice is evident when a group of people (sometimes in the hundreds) take the law into their own hands, and act as accuser, judge and jury, and ‘punish’ the alleged wrongdoer on the spot.

The person accused of committing the crime has no chance to defend himself or claim he is innocent. This procedure often ends up with the victim being beaten to death or seriously injured. The victim of a mob is denied a fair trial and, often, the right to life.

Studies suggest that mob justice is a very complex phenomenon and that its causes lie in poverty, lack of education and unemployment. In Pakistan, the major cause of mob justice is weak and corrupt policing and an ineffective judicial system. These are in addition to the poor enforcement of state laws and the absence of strict punishment for mobsters.

This tendency to seize justice by force is generally seen among less educated or uneducated lower classes that tend to get carried away by rumours or jump onto a certain bandwagon owing to their own frustration with the social system.

A horrific incident of lynching in Sialkot city in 2010 is one example. Two young brothers were beaten to death by a violent mob, for allegedly attempting a robbery, in the most barbaric and gruesome manner. Besides, in Pakistan, an ultra-sensitive religious society, blasphemy is considered a valid enough reason to take the law into one’s own hands.

In December last year, in district Dadu, Sindh, reportedly hundreds of villagers lynched an accused suspected of desecrating the Holy Quran. The mob thrashed the accused to death before setting his corpse on fire after dragging him out of the police lock-up.

Likewise in July 2012, in the town of Chani Goth, Bahawalpur, in a horrifying incident, hundreds of people mercilessly beat a mentally challenged man after accusing him of sacrilege and set him on fire. Both incidents took place in the presence of police officials who were outnumbered and overpowered by hundreds of participants.

These persons were murdered by a violent mob whereas the punishment for desecration of the Holy Quran is life imprisonment under Section 295(b) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

But apart from this worrisome, unfortunate trend, there is another that derives from it and is seen in educated and sophisticated social classes like lawyers and doctors.

Mob or ‘justice’ through force in the legal fraternity is commonly known as wukla gardi. It has always been there but escalated during the restoration of judiciary movement, when a few groups of lawyers began to rebel against the system and started to misbehave with fellow lawyers who were representing the government, and even manhandled them.

This trend has somehow not been eradicated in the bars, and some groups of lawyers, especially in Lahore and Faisalabad, are still involved in threatening, beating, even locking judges of the lower courts in their chambers besides attempting to threaten police officials and common litigants.

The weak law and order situation in the law courts is so bad that the judges of lower courts failed to take action against these groups of lawyers. According to reports in 2012, about 24 additional district and sessions judges wrote to the registrar of the Lahore High Court, requesting their transfer out of Lahore because of ill treatment at the hands of the lawyers. The latter were accused by the judges of harassment and of attempting to obtain undue favours from the courts.

The tussle between journalists and lawyers has also been at its peak since the lawyers’ movement. In August 2009, a group of lawyers belonging to the Lahore Bar Association banned the entry of journalists into the premises of all subordinate courts of the city for showing live video footage of the thrashing of a police official by some lawyers. Dozens of incidents have been reported where lawyers have thrashed journalists.

A leaning also develops where laws may have been very strong but different social classes find it hard to use the rules in their favour as efficiently as some others do, due to the system. This disappointment may have led young doctors of Punjab to stage an inhuman and horrific strike to make compelling efforts to make the provincial government bend to their demands.

Dissimilarities between customs, conventions and state laws are also one of the reasons of forced justice in my opinion. For example, marriages where couples are forced to run away are abhorred culturally in South Asia. In Pakistan these marriages are permitted under the law as they are by Islamic Sharia. Despite this, honour killings involve mob justice.

In 2012, a runaway couple was murdered and their bodies were later found hanging from a tree in district Chakwal. Similarly in the Indian city of Guwahati a female parliamentarian was injured during an attack by a mob of 100 people for converting and contracting a second marriage with a Muslim.

Besides the strict enforcement of laws vis-à-vis the powerful classes by the state there is an urgent need to arrange comprehensive research on the causes responsible for mob justice in Pakistan and to take methods to restrict this trend. Undertaking a thorough analysis of cultural and social diversities, the multiplicity of conventional and social outlooks would help. Otherwise a new and relatively dangerous form of mob justice would be strengthened in the name of the long march.

The writer is a lawyer.