Hailing state-sponsored lynching is giving rise to a justice system adrift of its true principles and vulnerable to misuse — portending perilous consequences
Recently, four accused in the gut-wrenching rape and murder incident were killed by the police in Hyderabad. I am bound by some personal labels that attach me to the aforementioned case — 'girl', '18 year old student' (post Millennial - one of the 400 million Gen-Z Indians), '1st-year law student' (love for justice – my idea of a purpose and a fulfilling life), 'citizen' (the law-abiding-types) etc. Yet, I have probably never been more confused, hurt and scared to speak my mind, as I think correct.
Halfway into the first semester of my five-year Law Course, I witnessed a flurry of path-breaking legalistic actions, activism and 'resolutions' that have mesmerised and terrified, in equal measures. From the abrogation of Article 370, triple-talaq, Sabarimala, Ayodhya to Citizenship (Amendment) Act — the nation has been in throes of conflicting passions. In my own little world of social media, the language has acquired a lot angrier, mocking and bluntly political tone that seeks to slot me into binaries that I didn't think necessary, earlier. Competing quotes from George Orwell to Godse, all have made their debut into my imagination and conscience — I struggle to weather the storm of the 'new normal'.
Finally, my confused state struggled even more as I saw the euphoric uproar following the killing of the four accused in Hyderabad. 'Bahut accha hua', 'aisa hi hona chaiye tha' and 'salute to the police' (with cheery emoticons of clapping, smileys and thumbs up as accompaniments). My first-semester notions of the rule of law suggested otherwise, and I froze in the face of the revelry. The excited conversations amongst friends, aunts, strangers in the metro and other social groups assumed an even more frightening sense of unanimity — the world was lapping up the shooting as the most decisive move in the world to undo all wrongs. Conversations got excitedly detailed with 'maar ke, pole sey taang do' and 'behead them in public' — the problem was that I had indeed spent a few years in the Middle East where such capital punishment and summary justices were prevalent, and therein the actual reality of safety, gender freedom, liberality and human rights are best not even spoken about! As a woman, I was expected to cheer the animalistic form at justice, never mind what the law books suggested at the college, or what the most important book for an Indian citizen i.e., Constitution, would insist.
Yet, I was also told to remain cautious of living in a city where people were unable to control their wonton impulses and urges – so what did I miss? If the police shooting all accused without proper trial could solve problems, why worry? Were the celebrations premature? Did we ask the same police as to why they failed us in the first place when they hesitated from filing the First Information Report in the same case? Why did they think it necessary to 'check her character'? Were ten armed policemen in the presence of four unarmed men susceptible of getting overpowered? Would cheering crowds be alright if the police were to kill one of their own, without a proper trial? Little did I realise that asking the seemingly obvious questions about the 'encounter' being potentially extra-judicial would actually put me in the unthinkable category — the rape apologists! An 18-year-old was frequently told 'tum ladki hokey, aisa kaisey soch sakti ho?'
Conversations like these have enabled me to acquiesce to the dystopia that I will spend my adult life living in. I am left questioning my purpose of studying law in a country that can agree to dysfunction, in the absence of it. The retort is that courts will remain permanently slow, ineffective, understaffed and worse, even corrupt — so vigilante justice is the cure. Shoot-at-sight is the answer. Though, conversations with some friends from certain faiths and regions who have been silenced from protesting against their own will, resulted in painful memories when they invoked their own experiences of trigger-happy law enforcers.
Suddenly, the spirit of our hallowed Constitution no longer resonates, instead, it is seen as meek and surrendering. An even worse fate awaits the perception and necessity of democracy in India. An unverified statement attributed to Churchill states, 'The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter', the actually verifiable statement to Churchill actually was, 'Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time…' We no longer seem to have the patience for democracy or for justice with the confirmation of truth. Thus, our argument against our legal system — however slow, inefficient and corrupt — should not be state-sponsored lynchings but rather should be the expedition of lawful justice. The public may demand bloodlust as a natural instinct but the government cannot sponsor one. Instead, it reforms, staffs and expedites the lawful delivery of justice.
Despite the accusations of 'kaisi ladki', I will reiterate that the solution cannot be lynchings; worse, if it is done by the instruments of the state. Some Sub-Saharan and Middle Eastern countries mete out instant and brutal 'justice', and they have the worst record for treatment for women in all aspects. Whereas Scandinavian countries that have historically stood for progressive standards of equality and justice, are amongst the safest countries for women — they do not shoot the accused and label it as 'instant justice', they call it cold-blooded killing. But, their women are safe every day, everywhere and in every form of clothing that they wear.
I am not a rape apologist, I want justice for all women who got raped and murdered, and for those who could — for that, I am willing to stand out in a crowd and still insist that the law must be allowed to take its path.
Sanah Singh is a first-year law student. Views expressed are strictly personal