It was just another commute back home in a crowded Mumbai local- bogeys packed to double their capacity, and then some more. Not enough space to fit even a Hydrogen atom. But one thing that even the most frustratingly crowded places in India always have space for, is nameless unfounded anger.
The train had halted at Sion. People were getting out and rushing in like their life depended on it. Suddenly, there was some commotion outside, on the platform. Shouts of "Chor!" were echoing in the air. A crowd had surrounded a short, skinny man and was accosting him. Apparently, a lady had shouted "Chor!" and simply pointed at the person she suspected of the deed, and like clockwork, the man was hounded by a horde of people and caught.
Unsurprisingly, the same people began grabbing him by the collar and slapping him. A dozen other random people joined in soon in the very public and agonisingly violent form of 'justice'; and if this wasn't enough, some people from the bogey I was in got off the train, caught the 'thief' by his ears, and dragged him into the train.
The 'court session' had switched locations. The man's lip had a cut, his nose was bleeding profusely, and his eyes were swollen and bruised so much that it made my insides turn. I couldn't help but look away. People inside the train now took over the reins from those at Sion and the vicious beating continued.
A person at the other side of the bogey barely forced his way through the more than saturated bogey, just to land a barbaric blow on the face of the 'thief'. He began shouting how three of his cell phones had been stolen by "these people", and resumed beating him. One man in this savage 'team' even pulled out a cell phone from the pocket of the thief and threatened to shove it out of the moving train. His threat received excellent support from the mob, but the man didn't turn out to be a total ass. He just kept the phone with himself, simply assuming that it was stolen property. What happened to the phone later is anybody's guess.
I was deliberately trying to look out of the window. The public dispensation of justice was too much for me to watch. My slight attempt to calm one of the beaters down wasn't very fruitful. There wasn't much that could be done alone, given how easy it is for one person's intervention to get sidelined or suppressed in a mob blinded by rage. In the end, everyone else realises the futility of intervening and just keeps to themselves.
I proceeded to the other exit of the bogey to get down and got down at the next station. I looked back and saw that the mob had manhandled him onto the platform and were taking him to the railway police. I decided to continue on my way home but I could still hear the painful wails of the thief being beaten and kicked by the mob like they were soldiers of Genghis Khan; all this being recorded by some others on their phones, ripe to be the next trending video on Whatsapp.
And this was just another example of mob violence- a phenomenon that is widespread across our country, and frighteningly, also accepted by society to a great extent.
India isn't a stranger to enjoying revenge as a team sport.
It is commonplace to hear about somebody, somewhere in the country, being mauled or lynched, sometimes even to the point of being fatal. Lynching, ink-throwing, torching, stripping and parading naked, and horrifyingly even publicly hanging; these are all examples that happen in some part of this amazing country every day.
In a country where the judiciary is an integral pillar of society, taking matters into our own hands to mete out justice is never going to be the right thing to do. Mobs are driven by a blind rage that is unable to differentiate between right and wrong, guilty and innocent. While it may seem that we are delivering justice in a nation whose courts are plagued with loads of backlogs, what we often end up achieving is anything but that- just broken bones and death.
In trying to dispense justice, we end up becoming the criminals.
The really tragic thing, though, is that many of us are indifferent towards this sort of violence and vigilantism. Not only that, some of us are even supportive towards such acts of savagery, as is evident from these reactions on Twitter to the lynching and public hanging of an accused rapist in Manipur.
Whatever happened in dimapur is debatable but could be Justified in simple words.. Well deserved!— Syndertard. (@SRK_Dexter) March 7, 2015
Supporting and encouraging mob justice only sets a precedent. It tells kids that it is okay to publicly humiliate and beat somebody, and that is not the kind of society that any nation wants. Anger towards crime and injustice is a mark of a concerned and active society, and punishing an offender is essential. But there must be an order to the manner in which justice is meted out. It should be proportionate to the crime and must not go overboard, driven by uncontrolled emotions.
A society cannot run on individual ideas of justice because if left unchecked, it can fast evolve into a fierce monster that is trigger-happy, driven by rage, and commits thoughtless actions. Yes, there are flaws in our justice system. A slow, underperforming judiciary is certainly one cause of these incidents. But as a people, we must not let ourselves lose our senses and go berserk.
Unfortunately, as I end this piece, somewhere in the country, another 'criminal' will have been beaten to within an inch of death by an angry mob.