To replace a slow-paced and seriously flawed judicial system with “instant” justice via vigilantism is to stare into the abyss of anarchy.
Early April saw the release of a new global report called the Atlas of Impunity, which ranks countries based on how poorly they have performed in terms of not adhering to the rule of law. And it is this idea of impunity that we grapple with in this issue. The fact that custodial violence and encounter killings not only go unpunished but are often hailed as the right methods to tackle crime.
The shooting of the gangsters Atiq and Ashraf Ahmed in Uttar Pradesh was welcomed by many. Some said it had restored law and order. Others listed the heinous crimes they had committed. Some said it was “divine justice”. Others declaimed that dharma had won.
But if restoring law and order is to be defined simply as upping state terror to match criminal terror, one might as well dismantle the courts. That the judicial system is glacial in pace and seriously flawed is well known but to replace it with “instant” justice via vigilantism is to stare into the abyss of anarchy. As Justice S. Muralidhar said in a 2018 talk, “The more the state itself indulges in lawlessness, the message goes out to vigilante mobs that they can outdo the state.” Thus, impunity for the state translates into impunity for the mobs.
The “encounter” model, always glorified in our cinema, is catching on, with Assam following in UP’s footsteps and Kashmir already well lost. Globally, too, the idea of the “strongman” as leader has gained ground. The law is either unable or unwilling to stop state excess. We use these angles to explore the idea of the emerging brutal state.
But let me end with one story that brings it home best. In 2019, Hyderabad policemen were feted after they shot dead four men for the rape and murder of a young vet. In 2022, a Supreme Court commission found that the encounter had been staged. Four innocent youngsters had been framed and killed to slake a bloodthirsty public. Retribution, they say, is best left to the gods.
Read the issue here.