An open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressed by several eminent personalities from various walks of life, highlights the challenges facing the Indian polity in the wake of horrific incidents of lynching and hate crime. The increasing trend of weaponisation of religious slogan to target minorities and Dalits must prick the nation’s conscience. This is a challenge that hits at the very roots of the country’s democratic ethos and must be nipped in the bud. As many as 49 celebrities, including filmmakers, artistes, social scientists, historians and authors, have called for urgent steps to stop mob violence in the name of religion and other prejudices. Dismissing lynching as just another incident of crime would mean ignoring the larger dimension of the problem. The forces that are at play in this heinous campaign have turned ‘Jai Shri Ram’ into a war cry. These elements must be curbed at any cost since they pose a threat to social harmony. During the last few years, there has been a spate of lynching across the country on account of religious prejudice, caste hatred and superstition. Such offences should be declared non-bailable and exemplary punishment should be meted out swiftly. The silence over mob violence will only embolden the fissiparous elements to impose their agenda on the country. Even during the swearing-in ceremony of the MPs in the current Lok Sabha, religious slogans were raised. This is a dangerous trend that will weaken national unity.
Having secured a resounding mandate for a second term, Modi should use his stature, appeal and standing to steer the polity away from the dangers of divisive trends. The initiative must come from the top to put an end to mob violence. Political and administrative apathy that follows each incident of mob violence is more disturbing. The government must enact a national law to deal with lynching and set up fast-track courts to hand out swift punishment to the perpetrators of such heinous crime. The Supreme Court had last year suggested such a special law and consequently the Centre had set up a high-level committee, headed by the Union Home Secretary, to suggest a legal framework to effectively deal with mob violence. The horrendous mobocracy should not be allowed to become the new normal. Vigilantism by self-professed guardians of culture destroys the fundamental ethos of democracy. Instead of pushing the blame on the States on the ground that law and order is a State subject, the Central government must act firmly and send out a strong message to the hooligans who take the law into their own hands and expect to get away with it because of the excruciating slowness of India’s criminal justice system.