Lynch Mob, Selective Amnesia and Misplaced Outrage

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Protesters in Tinsukia demonstrate against the mob killing of a man accused of rape in neighboring Nagaland state on Sunday. — AFP
Protesters in Tinsukia demonstrate against the mob killing of a man accused of rape in neighboring Nagaland state on Sunday. — AFP

Even if we were to assume that Farid Khan had indeed been guilty as charged and an illegal Bangladeshi immigrant on top of it, none of it justifies the snatching away his right to fair trial and procedure

TAHMINA LASKAR

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hile the entire gruesome episode that unfolded on the 5th of March, 2015 was against a single man, it has made it clear that as a society something is terribly wrong with the way we look at things. What happened in Dimapur in Nagaland is a blot on the criminal justice system, an irreversible damage that speaks volumes about the administrative and intelligence failure during the March 5 madness.

The Nagaland government has suspended three officials in connection with the barbaric lynching, hanging and burning of Syed Farid Khan, a small-time businessman from Assam. Although as an administrative matter, this was the least that the government could have done, the entire incident needs to be examined from a broader and introspective perspective.

Misplaced emotions are more dangerous than non-existent emotions. Indians take pride in being emotional over an issue; emotions however cloud reasoning and logic and the emotions laced with hypocrisy are even worse. But when the media is complicit in fanning misplaced emotional outrage one feels helpless as to which way to look at.

Even as I write this my hands are shaking and I feel emotionally drained and exhausted thinking about the March 5 ‘incident’. No words can convey my sense of outrage, anger and helpless I felt after watching the gory spectacle played out on the streets of Dimapur in the true tribal fashion.

The failure of prison authorities is glaring, but even more than that what the mainstream media reported, or rather failed to report, is beyond disgust. National news channels and print media have been casually throwing around words like ‘illegal immigrant’ and ‘illegal Bangladeshi’ to describe the condemned man without even bothering to check their basic facts.

Now it turns out that the deceased has brothers serving in the Indian army and that his father was a retired Indian Air Force personnel so the question of him being a Bangladeshi immigrant is totally ruled out. Even the allegation of rape was, it seems, totally concocted.

A mob of around 4,000 people stormed the central jail after breaking the two gates and took the accused out of jail and paraded him naked to the city tower in the heart of Dimapur town before hanging and burning him is not administrative failure. It points to a completely crippled criminal justice system.

Firstly, he was an accused sent to judicial custody who deserved all protection till he was produced in court. Secondly, a day before when shops of traders from outside the state were ransacked the administration should have known that the explosive situation could erupt. To wait for the worse to happen for hours and allow the gory spectacle is nothing short of the police and administration being complicit in this dreadful, dreadful crime. It is next to impossible to just pick someone up from a high-security prison from among hundreds of prisoners.

It is understandable that in our glorious land a crime as serious as rape often goes unpunished and people are getting impatient. But to misplace the outrage leading to the witch hunt and lynching of a person belonging to a certain ethnic and religious group cannot be justified under any circumstance whatsoever.

For the sake of argument, even if we were to assume that the accused had indeed been a rapist or a Bangladeshi immigrant, none of it justifies the snatching away his right to fair trial and procedure. Apparently the mob wanted to mete out exemplary punishment to Farid Khan. At the same time the protesters demanded the administration to cancel trade licenses of all non-local businessmen in the town.

Why it is that one alleged (not proven) incident of rape leads to such a demand? Why are all non-local businessman painted with the same brush? Why is this desperation to prove someone as an illegal immigrant even if he is not? There are more than one question that the government must find answers to.

If the picture is still not clear and questions are not raised about the sinister designs behind the whole episode, I am afraid many Farid Khans are going to be meted out similar fate. I stood up for my North-Eastern brethren whenever there was injustice and I will continue to do so. But all those who cry foul when they face racial violence elsewhere need to deal with their own selective amnesia in the face of incidents like Dimapur.

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All opinions and views expressed in columns and blogs and comments by readers are those of individual writers and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Caravan

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