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Mobocracy has no place in a democracy

By Sandeep Sahu

Let me start with a confession. The provocation – or inspiration, if you like – for this piece came from a post by a Delhi based friend on his Facebook wall. “Proud of courageous move by local people of Kasanda village near Ranpur in Odisha’s Nayagarh district as they bezzelgated to death two non-odia dacoits during a heist in a bank,” wrote the friend triumphantly, making no effort whatsoever to hide his admiration for the 2000-strong mob that lynched two dacoits and left a third critically injured.[For the uninitiated, Bezelget was an English officer who was lynched by a mob during the independence struggle. The non-Odia bit in the post was false.]

“How can someone be ‘proud’ of this ‘achievement’?” I wondered. True, the fleeing dacoits had attacked and injured three persons, including the bank peon, while looting the bank. True, they did not help their case by hurling a bomb at the mob that was chasing them, provoking them further in the process. But did they deserve to be killed? Disturbing visuals of the gory incident shown on television on Thursday leave no room for doubt that after being mercilessly beaten by the mob, they were in no physical condition to retaliate or even flee – what with a crowd of hundreds having surrounded them from all sides. Why couldn’t the police be called in and the dacoits, already bleeding profusely and begging for mercy, handed over to them?

There are some who seek to defend the indefensible by invoking the principle of ‘right to self defence’! Did the 2000-strong mob raelly have anything to fear from the half-dead dacoits? Did they believe the dacoits were suicide bombers with an explosives belt strapped to their waists and were ready to blow themselves up any time? If anything, the visuals and reports coming from Ground Zero suggest that the dacoits hurled the crude bomb – which, by the way, never got detonated – in a desperate bid to scare the people away and make good their escape rather than with the intention of killing anyone. In a perverse sort of way, it was actually the dacoits who were exercising their ‘right to self defence’ in doing so!

It is for psycho analysts to decipher the impulses that drive human beings to indulge in such inhuman acts. But I dare say the crowd that lynched the dacoits consisted of perfectly normal people with all the normal human sensibilities and sensitivities, who would have perhaps reacted in a completely manner to the same situation in their individual capacity. But when one becomes part of a mob, normal human sensibilities, the rational faculties and the ability to distinguish between good and evil desert him. The anger of the more aggressive infects others in the crowd to an extent where they start feeling guilty about not joining in the lynching. It is possible that many in the crowd did not approve of the sheer barbarity of the act but still did not oppose it because of this guilt.

As I pondered over the Nayagarh incident, my mind went back nearly four decades in time to recollect an equally gory incident while vacationing at my maternal uncle’s native village. Early one morning, I was woken up by my cousin. The excitement on his face was palpable. He took me to the hospital nearby where six youths lay dead on makeshift bamboo stretchers, injury marks all over their bodies. A seventh man, still alive, sat on a chair with an arrow having pierced through his cheeks and got stuck. It was a bizarre sight, especially when the man on the chair signalled to a police constable standing guard asking for some water and then went on to drink water from a container as if this was something he had been doing all his life! It transpired that the seven were a part of a gang of dacoits that had barged into the house of a well to do family in a nearby village but got surrounded by a mob which stoned them to death. The seventh man was trying to flee when an arrow pierced his cheeks and got stuck.

I remember having nightmares for several days after watching the blood-splattered bodies of the dead dacoits. The question that came to my mind after the Nayagarh incident (Why they had to be killed?) kept tormenting my teenage mind for several weeks after the incident then.

I don’t know how I would have reacted if I was part of the mob at Kasanda village on Wednesday. May be I would have tried to reason with the attackers to spare the dacoits or simply fled the place to avoid watching the blood-curdling scene. But if a highly educated and perfectly sensible man sitting hundreds of kilometres away from the incident feels ‘proud’ about what the villagers had done, I dare say there is something fundamentally wrong with our society.

Mobocracy has no place in a democracy – especially in a society with as glorious a history as India has – and must be fought with all the powers that right thinking people can muster.

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