No room for vigilantism in a rules-based society
The Bhiwani murders can become a test case, but strong political will and institutional response will be necessary
The grisly deaths of two men in Haryana have stoked a raft of serious questions. The facts of the case are this: Mohammad Junaid, 35, and Mohammad Nasir, 27, were found charred inside a car in Bhiwani district on Thursday, roughly two days after they had left their home in Rajasthan’s Bharatpur district, nearly 200km away. The first investigation report by the police hints at the role of cow vigilantes in the case, with all the five men named by the families of the victims having links to Right-wing groups. On Sunday, this newspaper reported that one of the accused had confirmed to the police that a cow vigilante group had picked up the two men and assaulted them on suspicion of cattle smuggling. He also alleged, according to senior police officials leading the investigation, that after a brutal thrashing, the group took them to a local police station in Haryana, but the officers there refused to accept the two people – a charge that Haryana Police denied.
Whether there was negligence on the part of the local police station in Haryana is for the investigation to uncover and recommend action if found complicit. But some troubling patterns have emerged in the investigation surrounding the role of cow vigilante groups and the long rope they are sometimes given by local authorities. Many newspaper reports have highlighted how the work of these groups can quickly tip over into violence and how many members carry weapons with scant regard for procedure or the rule of law. Such vigilantism, for whatever purpose, is antithetical to the foundation of a civilised society because it stokes majoritarianism and erodes procedural safeguards necessary in a just and fair criminal redressal system. Unfortunately, political expediency coupled with institutional and police apathy gives such groups a free hand. The Bhiwani murders can become a test case, but strong political will and institutional response will be necessary.