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Palghar lynchings show failure at various levels

Palghar lynchings show failure at various levels

The Palghar lynching incident, in which three men including two seers were killed, has exposed incompetence in governance at all levels and in various forms. None of the authorities concerned come out smelling of roses.

The Maharashtra government failed utterly and comprehensively. The three victims wanted to go to Gujarat to attend a funeral. They were stopped at border to Gujarat, at Dadra and Nagar Haveli, mobbed by the locals and beaten to death. The mob believed that they were child kidnappers. The killings allegedly happened in the presence of police; the cops were supposedly overwhelmed by the sheer numbers.

But there were no child kidnapping cases in the area in the recent past. Yet, a WhatsApp message, spreading the misinformation about child kidnappers, was doing the rounds for quite some time. This raises a lot of questions. What were the cops in the area doing to combat the dangerous misinformation? Didn’t the local intelligence unit know anything about the mischievous messages?

Law and order is a state subject. Maharashtra Home Minister Anil Deshmukh takes pride in being a tough guy. He boasted on a news channel that he has given orders to police use the danda on anybody not following the lockdown rules. In effect, he was telling the police to violate a couple of basic principles of civilized world: the job of cops is to apprehend law-breakers, not to punish them; and the judiciary is meant to penalize the guilty.

By the way, the danda is intended to be used against the man on the street, not against the rich and the famous whatever their offences may be. Rules are for the lesser mortals, not for the rich and the famous. Not even for the rich and the infamous. A senior official in the state administration recently helped the Wadhawans, accused in the PMC scam. As Ateet Sharma wrote earlier (<a href="https://indianarrative.com/india/the-great-escape-during-covid-19-lockdown-760.html">https://indianarrative.com/india/the-great-escape-during-covid-19-lockdown-760.html</a>), “The ordinary citizens can’t even think of a Mumbai-Khandala trip right now. But if you are among the rich and famous, even a road trip from Khandala to Mahabaleshwar can be given a shot at—even in these times. Even when the country’s top investigation agencies are after you.”

Worse, the danda is not meant to check those spreading rumors and carrying out lynchings, as evident form the brutal killing of the three men.

The Central government too doesn’t look very good either. Consider the equally boastful Ravi Shankar Prasad, Union Minister of Information Technology and of Law. On April 10, a business daily interviewed him. The interviewer asked as to how the government was dealing with the issue of videos spreading misinformation about Covid-19 going viral on platforms such as TikTok and WhatsApp.

“I appreciate the co-operation of social media platforms, but they must behave responsibly during these times of challenge and stress. I have taken up the matter in a very tough manner with these companies. My simple statement to them was that they have to do the monitoring themselves and encryption can’t be [used] as an excuse,” the Minister replied.

It is the job of government to provide security and safety to citizens, Mr. Minister. Whatever happened to your “very tough manner”? We take pride in saying that India is an IT powerhouse, so why is it that our authorities are so deficient that they can’t track malicious messages?

The killings are unlikely to be a wake-up call for our political masters. The Maharashtra Home Minister said in a statement made on social media: “Palghar mob lynching is a grotesque incident which happened due to rumors on social media about child kidnappers and thieves prowling in the area. A high-level inquiry is going on and, meanwhile, people are requested not to fall for rumors and verify the facts from trusted sources.”

A high-level inquiry—will it make any difference? That is the real question..