How long will public violence be justified?

“Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are” – Benjamin Franklin.

Peace and democracy go parallelly, where one is absent the other is jeopardized. Breach of Public Peace is wrong against a person or property and wrong against the state. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the state and/or government to ensure that the peace and morality of the state are maintained and strict rules and regulations are brought to maintain peace and order in the state.

Public violence is mostly seen as a non-political common law crime, unlike the offence of treason and sedition.  The interests at stake here are public peace and order, the typical case will involve a brawl in which several persons take part a.k.a. a faction fight.

Several such cases are set in the rural areas and involve family or clan feuds. One such case is of Alirajpur’s 19-year-old Tribal woman, Nanchi Ajnar.

She was tied to a tree and assaulted with sticks by her kin in Alirajpur in Madhya Pradesh for leaving her marital home and staying with her uncle. She was dangling from the branch of a tree as her kin hit her with sticks even when she pleaded for mercy. Later people were seen dragging her on the ground as well. The incident was brought to light when the video of it went viral on social media pages, one such page was The Red Pill India, a youth awareness account. The accused who were her brothers were booked under Section 294 (obscene words), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 353 (use of criminal force), 506 (criminal intimidation of the Indian Penal Code). Many believe that the arrest was made only when the video went viral. The bigger bitter truth is that while people were making videos being the part of the spectators no one was seen to come forward and help the victim while she was being beaten for no logical reason at all.

From where do the family and the other people involved get the bravery to do such acts? Why did people let her get beaten and waited for the video to get viral to take some action? And what happened to the accused, did she get justice, or where they bailed out easily? These are some questions that should be brought into focus and dealt with immediately.

WHAT ARE THE REASONS FOR SUCH VIOLENCE?

India sees an average of 5-10 cases of public violence every month. The victims range from teenagers to the elderly and the reasons behind such violence can be shocking for one. A few very recent cases can give us insight into how little thought is given before people start acting in outrage.

The majority of such crimes are birthed from communal hatred, religious differences, political outrage, or simply a way to prove “who is the bigger fish in the sea”.

On 17th June 2021, the video of a 72-year-old Muslim man, Abdul Samad Saifi, being brutally beaten up in Ghaziabad’s Loni went viral, many shared the video, alleging that the incident was a communally motivated hate crime, reports the Quint[1] .This can be an example of communal hatered enticed from religious differences. A Dalit man was beaten to death by a group of youths allegedly over a poster with BR Ambedkar’s photograph, which was put up outside his house in Rajasthan’s Hanumangarh district, police said on June 10th 2021[2] . For many years, reports of violent attacks against Untouchables have routinely exceeded 10,000 cases each year. An annual parade in honor of the late Dr. Ambedkar is resented by the higher caste population, and in 1978 conflict triggered a police riot, killing nine and seriously injuring more than 100, burning homes, and leaving the walls of an Untouchable Buddhist shrine riddled with bullet holes. The political scenario which follows is no less sickening. [3]

While it is also observed that most of the incidents are a result of people doing, what they think is “delivery of justice”. Completely driven by sheer emotions they decide on the punishment for an “alleged” crime or offence mostly according to their own personal definition of “right and wrong”. Some examples of this can be,  on 14th June 2021, one person was beaten to death in Rajasthan’s Chittorgarh over allegations of trafficking in cows.[4] A 34-year-old man was allegedly lynched on the suspicion of cattle theft in upper Assam’s Tinsukia district on June 12th 2021.[5] A 50-year-old man was brutally beaten to death by villagers in Assam allegedly on suspicion of practicing witchcraft.[6] A 29-year-old man was beaten to death by a mob that accused him of entering a pandal where a religious ceremony was in progress in an inebriated condition, in Uttrakhand.[7]

The above mentioned cases are just a fraction of such incidents which take place every year and even a smaller fraction if those which not brought into light and whose videos do not get viral, are also counted.

WHAT DOES THE LEGISLATION SAY?

Chapter 10 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, lays down the legal provisions for the maintenance of public order and tranquillity. It also lays down the powers, functions, and duties of the executive and police in this regard.[8]

Section 31 and Section 34 of the Indian Police Act 1861 defines several public order as well as instructs police to maintain order on roads, public areas, prevent unlawful assemblies and grants the right to the police to punish the person to be made liable for not following them, respectively.[9]

Chapter VIII of The Indian Penal Code 1860 discusses the offences which are known as “group offences” and are further categorized as unlawful assembly, rioting, and affray.  The chapter in detail covers the definition of the above mentioned group crimes, various angles of being a part of such crimes as well as the punishment of each category, i.e. Unlawful assembly, rioting, affray.

It covers from Section 141 to Section 160 of the Indian Penal Code.  

  • Article 19 (1)(b) of the Constitution of India provides the right to assemble peacefully without arms and Section 141 of the Indian penal code defines what is an unlawful assembly, puts forth the conditions which make an assembly unlawful with respect to its common object and forbids such assembly. As a result of the differences in the said statutes relating to assemblies in public places, the Parliament amended clause(2) of Article 19  by the Constitution (First Amendment) Act, 1951,  by the new cl. (2). “(2) Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.”[10]
    In the case of, Bhanwar Singh & Ors v. The State of M.P[11] that the common object of the unlawful assembly, may form on the spur of the moment; it is sufficient if it is accepted by all the members and shared by them all. Section 142 of IPC deals with being a member of such an assembly with unlawful intent and Section 143 of IPC defines the punishment for any member of such assembly as: imprisonment for a term which may extend to (a) six months or with (b) fine or (c) both.[12]
  • Moving forward, a riot is a type of civil disorder which is often discribed as disorganized groups lashing out in a sudden and extreme outbreak of violence against persons of authority, property or individuals. Rioting is a violent activity against the of peace and order by a crowd or assembly. Section 147 deals with punishment for persons involved in riots which states that whoever is guilty of rioting shall be punished for either (a) term which may extend to two years or (b) fine or (c) both. If any person, alreday guilty of rioting is found to be armed with such a weapon or anything which is used to cause violence in the riot and is likely to cause death, the punishment extends to a term of three years or a fine or both.. [13]
  • If two or more people fight in public which leads to disrupting public peace or endangering or causing harm to  anyone around them then they are said to have committed Affray. Simply, an act creating a threat to the peace and safety in the society is affray. Common intention is not important in an affray and a person who has actually committed a crime is liable. Mostly, the offence of affary is a group or joint act in which two or more parties are involved in violence or fight  against each other, which takes place in a public location, and results into the disturbance of  public peace. Affary is defined under Section 159 of the Indian Penal Code as two or more persons/parties, by fighting in a public place, disturbing the public peace, are said to “commit an affray”. The punishment for anyone guilty of commiting an affray is imposed under Section 160 of the Indian Penal Code as whoever commits an affray, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to one month, or with fine which may extend to one hundred rupees, or with both.[14]

Provisions in the Indian Penal Code that  criminalises incitement of violence; Section 153 and 505.

  • Section 153A criminalises and punishes people woh are indulged in wanton vilification and/or attcks the religion, race, place of birth, language etc. of someone else. This includes making statements, speeches or acts which have the effect of disturbing public tranquility or law and order. And  promoting enmity or creating fear or alarm between classes of people on basis of difference in religion, caste, language or place of birth.
  • Section 505 on the other hand, deals with the intent to incite or actions which are likey to incite people of any community to commit an offence against any other community or class or against the state or disturb public tranquillity and incites persons to disturb public tranquillity. It criminalises making such statements, reports or rumours  and lays down the punishment which may extend to an imprisonment of 3 years or fine or both. Offences committed under both sections are cognizable offences, which means that an accused can be arrested without a warrant. 

OTHER RELATED SECTIONS:

  • Section 144 of the Code of Criminal procedure deals with the Urgent Cases of Nuisance or Apprehended Danger . This section empowers a magistrate to act immediately for the prevention of any situation laid down in Section 133 Criminal Procedure Code and a magistrate may “direct any person to abstain from a certain act or to take certain order with respect to certain property in his possession or under his management, if such Magistrate considers that such direction is likely to prevent, or tends to prevent, obstruction, annoyance or injury to any person lawfully employed, or danger to human life, health or safety, or a disturbance of the public tranquillity, or a riot, or an affray.” Such prohibitory order can remain in effect for two months; or up to six months if so directed by the state government. [15]
  • Section 323 of the Indian Penal Code lays down the punishment for voluntarily causing hurt to someone. A person guilty under section 323 may be punished with imprisonment extending up to one year or a fine up to a thousand rupees or both.
  • Section 353 of the Indian Penal Code deals with and lays down punishment for use of criminal force or assault on any person leading to their dishonour, grieve, or sudden provocation. Any person guilty under Section 353 of IPC shall be punished with imprisonment up to 2 years or a fine or both.
  • Section 504 of the Indian Penal Code lays down punishment for intentionally insulting someone and driving them to break public peace because of such insult as imprisonment up to 2 years or a fine or both.
  • Section 506 of the Indian Penal Code lays down punishment for criminal intimidation of causing grievous hurt or death as imprisonment up to 2 years or a fine or both.

CONCLUSION

India is one of the many nations that is forced to deal with public violence. As already mentioned, public violence stems from a sense of vigilantism. People deem themselves fit enough to make decisions regarding people’s lives based on their own notions of justice. It is extremely unfortunate that there are citizens in this nation who believe it is acceptable for them to deal with issues regarding someone’s innocence or involvements based on the “facts” they know, which are nothing but rumours and speculations. The multiple cases that have been mentioned and discussed above, all prove that those crimes could have been easily avoided. 

The issue here is not the fact that our legislation does not cover these crimes, because it does. The problem lies in the implementation of those rules. Public violence increases because the people who commit such crimes either believe that they wouldn’t get caught or that they are helping the nation by righting the wrongs. 

Public Violence isn’t just a threat to public peace and tranquillity but is also a threat to the power of our sovereign nation and its judiciary. It is the fundamental duty of the state to make its citizens feel safe, and that objective cannot be achieved as long as such crimes are prevalent in the nation. The law will have to control such crimes with an iron fist and reestablish the procedure that should be followed when an injustice has occurred. No one has the power or right to take the law into their own hands. 

While dealing with matters of such crimes, the police cannot follow any sort of leniency as that would work against the motive of deterring or stopping such crimes from happening again. And that cannot happen unless these crimes are treated with utmost sincerity and honesty. These crimes are usually motivated by religious, political beliefs, which makes them even more sensitive. Hence, the police have to be even more careful while dealing with them. 

Awareness regarding these crimes also needs to be increased, people need to be made aware of the consequences of such actions to prevent them from happening again. Such awareness would also help in police being notified faster if such crimes were to occur. 

But, regardless of all these notions, a change will not be brought about unless all of us unite together and stop justifying such crimes by looking at them from a religious, political, or moral standpoint. We as a community need to enforce the laws that have already been put in place and be more aware of our surroundings and the severity of such crimes. 

The supremacy of law cannot be sullied simply because of the beliefs of an individual or a group, with an impression that they have the power given by the law and take enforcement into their own hands and punish the accused in a manner they deem fit.

The rule of law has to be upheld for any civilized society to exist with peace and order.


[1]            Loni case: Editors Guild Slams FIR Against The Wire, The Quint, 17 June 2021

https://www.thequint.com/news/india/loni-case-editors-guild-slams-fir-against-the-wire-others#read-more

[2]              Press Trust of India, Dalit man beaten to Death in  Rajasthan over BR Ambedkar’s Poster, NDTV, 10th June 2021

https://www.ndtv.com/cities/dalit-man-beaten-to-death-in-rajasthan-over-br-ambedkars-poster-police-2460984

[3]      Barbara R. Joshi, Social Violence and Political Authority in India- A Challenge to Human Rights,  Cultural Survival Quaterly Magzine, March 1986

https://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/social-violence-and-political-authority-india-challenge

[4]              Harsha Kumari Singh, Man Beaten To Death by Mob in Rajasthan over Cow smuggling Suspicions, NDTV, 14th June 2021 https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/in-rajasthan-mob-attacks-men-over-cow-smuggling-allegations-one-dead-2463434

[5]            Ratnadip Chaudhary, Assam Man Beaten to Death over suspicion of cattle theft,NDTV,  13th June 2021 https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/man-lynched-in-assams-tinsukia-on-suspicion-of-cattle-theft-2462805

[6]            Ratnadip Chaudhary, Assam Mob kills 50 year old over alleged “Witch hunt” 5 arrested, NDTV,  24th May 2021                https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/assam-mob-kills-50-year-old-man-in-alleged-witch-hunt-5-arrested-cops-2448619

[7]           Press Trust of India, Udham Singh Nagar- Uttrakhand Man killed for entering religious ceremony in a drunk state , NDTV, 08th April 2021

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/udham-singh-nagar-uttarakhand-man-killed-for-entering-religious-ceremony-in-drunk-state-cops-2409119

[8]      Ekta kumari, All about maintainance of Public Order and Tranquility under Code of Criminal Procedure, Latest laws, 09th July 22018

https://www.latestlaws.com/articles/all-about-maintenance-of-public-order-and-tranquility-under-code-of-criminal-procedure-by-ekta-kumari.

[9]      Diganth Raj Sehgal, Breach of public Peace under The Indian Penal Code, BlogIPleaders, 26th April 2020.

[10]    Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar, 1962 AIR 955, B P Sinha

https://indiankanoon.org/doc/111867/?type=print

[11]    Bhanwar Singh & ors. v. The State of M.P., on 16th May 2008, Criminal appeal number 300 of 2007, S B Sinha

[12]    Supra note 9

[13]    Supra note 9

[14]    Supra note 9

[15]    Supra note 8


Author: Chanchal Chaturvedi


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