Brutal mob justice

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The best adjectives that describe Manipur today are increasingly oxymoronic in nature – brutal justice, deafening silence, terrible beauty, street-fighters’ law etc… to name just a few. There are too many situations occurring at unnerving frequently these days where such radically opposed senses, juxtaposed together, have come to define Manipur’s experience most aptly. The abundant mix of passion, energy, frustration, hopelessness, creativity etc, is resulting in a curious concoction that is life in the state. Too often for comfort, the mix is becoming dangerously explosive. There are too many examples to illustrate this phenomenon. Although there now seems a change in the outlook, once upon a time, not so long ago, stories of how rapists and others involved in crimes seen as an assault on the vitals of the culture of the place, were hunted down and soften shot dead by underground organisations. These agents for retributive action were also more often than not were respectable members of the communities caught in mob frenzy. It is again true that more than the original crimes, it was the news of these brutal retributions that everybody wanted to shout aloud from their rooftops. The news of these events banner across the front pages local dailies, and scream on local cable TVs. Perhaps in a brutalized society like Manipur, a brutal crime meeting with an equally brutal and swift justice, is expected to be celebrated if not for anything else then for the palpable sense of social catharsis. Sad to say it, but this is the manner and extent to which violence has come to be internalised in the Manipur society is. In an academic sense, it is also interesting to note how distinctly calibrated violence is on everybody’s moral scale. Hence, while everybody felt outraged at the violence involved in the recent murder of a man by his cousin in the police, the destruction of the murderer’s house and the banishing of his family from the community, skewed though it was, still is seen as justice by many. It is as if our society is in such a passionate state of confused emotions, induced by the violence all around for so many decades, that often the only safety valve its unfortunate denizens are privileged to, is to scream blood and vengeance every now and then.

There are other inferences to be drawn from this story and others like it. If for instance the retributive action on the murderer had been by the police, would the public catharsis have remained the same? Probably not, for public blood lust would have been denied. Looked at it another way, it can also be argued the public, even though now found of mob justice, would be horrified to see the law too resorting to similar violent retribution. The intuitive understanding is, an arm of the law breaking these institutionalised channels even to get after the devil, spells great danger for the society at large in the long run, as Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s play A Man for All Seasons spelled it out so convincingly. Hence, much as we are appalled by these despicable crimes by perverts, and much as we feel these crimes deserve equally violent retributions, we can only give two cheers to the mob taking the law into their own hands. We will reserve the third cheer till such a time as the justice delivery mechanism, abandons all arbitrary elements and becomes an edified institution built by the collective wisdom of the people through refined and democratic means. Shouldn’t we recall that one of the strongest objections against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, for instance, was on the ground that it departs from institution and strays into the arbitrary domain, and the dangers thereof?

These episodes also perhaps tell another familiar story – the breakdown of institutions in the establishment. For whatever the reason the kind of catharses witnessed after justice was meted out to these murderers and rapists have come to be far beyond the scope of the establishment. The erosion of the moral authority of the establishment over its subjects is near total, and there are today very few who still fully believe that the establishment, rather those in charge of it, are capable of doing any good, leave aside deliver justice. What else can be expected, when murderers and known thieves are allowed to walk scot-free? Highways are being cut through established institutions to allow corrupt ways. Look at the ways government job recruitments are done. Look at the wealth that accumulates in the hands of those given the rein of the state, and their cronies. The chaos in our society must indeed be directly proportional to the abuse keepers of the establishment heap on the establishment continually.

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