India’s Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the government to enact a new law and stem what it called “horrendous acts” of lynching, after some 22 people were killed by mobs this year.
Since February the country has seen a spate of mob lynchings, often in isolated areas where outsiders have been accused of child kidnapping and other crimes following fake rumours spread via WhatsApp.
The latest incident saw a Google engineer killed in a mob attack last week in the southern state of Karnataka and five people were lynched in neighbouring Maharashtra on July 1.
Separately, fatal attacks have also been carried out on Muslims by so-called “cow protection” groups who roam highways inspecting livestock trucks. Cows are considered sacred by the the majority Hindu community.
The Supreme Court Tuesday condemned the lynchings and asked states to take “preventive, punitive and remedial” measures to curb the trend.
“Horrendous acts of mobocracy cannot be allowed to become a new norm. It has to be curbed with an iron hand,” observed a bench headed by India´s chief justice Dipak Misra.
The parliament must make a law to deal with lynchings and punish offenders, it said.
“No citizen can take law into his hands or become a law onto himself,” the court ruled.
Lynchings based on misjudgement or malicious information are not a new phenomenon in India. But the spread of smartphones and internet access in the country’s poorest and most isolated areas has exacerbated the problem.
Indian authorities have recently launched awareness campaigns and imposed internet blackouts but the measures have had limited success so far.
The government has also taken WhatsApp to task for the “irresponsible and explosive messages” being shared among its 200 million Indian users — the company’s largest market.
WhatsApp, which said it was ‘horrified’ by the violence in India, has introduced new features to help users identify messages that have been forwarded as opposed to written by someone they know.
Tehseen Poonawala, a social rights activist who had petitioned the court over lynchings, welcomed the court´s latest order.
“We hope this (law against lynching) becomes a reality. Such a law is really needed in the country,” he told reporters.