Vigilante Hate Crimes in India

The following is a guest-written opinion piece by Rahul Saraswat and Akshansh Sharma, students at the Gujarat National Law University in India.


Approximately 88 people have been killed in India since 2015 and hundreds have been seriously injured by groups of people who call themselves cow vigilantes. Cows are considered sacred in Hinduism and the cow vigilantes justify violence against Muslims and ethnic minorities in the name of protecting cows. The violence they are using  is called “lynching.”

The Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill was drafted by Leonidas C. Dyer in response to the practice of lynching in America. It defines lynching as a “‘mob or riotous assemblage composed of three or more [people] acting in concert for the purpose of depriving any person of his life without the authority of law as a punishment for or to prevent the commission of some actual or supposed public offense.”  IndiaSpend, a data-based news organization, reports that “Muslims were the target of 52% of violence centered on bovine issues over nearly eight years (2010 to 2017) and comprised 84% of 25 Indians killed in 60 incidents.”

India is a democratic and secular country and its citizens have certain fundamental rights that the State is bound to protect and insure. The State’s fundamental duty is to maintain the rule of law and provide equal protection of the law so that every citizen can practice their right to dignity. However, the continued practice of these violent lynchings demonstrates a failure on the part of the State to fulfill its duties to protect citizens.

India has both signed and ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Articles 6(1) and 9(1) of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights are also reflected in Article 21 of the Indian Constitution. The Constitution states that “no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his life and personal liberty and these rights shall be protected by law.” When a vigilante group attacks a group of people on the pretext of moral policing, it is a clear violation of their right to life and personal liberty. Although there are laws in India that could prosecute those guilty of lynching, they are often not implemented mainly because of lack of political will, effective policing and fair investigations.

Because of the absence of separate anti-lynching legislation that could forbid the practice of lynching, in 2016 social activists filed a Writ Petition before the Honorable Supreme Court of India seeking relief against mob violence relating to cow vigilantism. The petition asked the state to take measures against these acts. However, since then there have been several more reported cases of lynchings. In response, the apex court declared the act of lynching against India’s Constitutional mandates and defined lynching as a barbaric, inhumane and an uncivilized act. The court stated that lynching is a threat to the democracy and secularity of India. The apex court framed preventive and remedial guidelines and has ensured that every state implement the guidelines.

Thanks to this ruling, Manipur became the first state in India to pass full-fledged legislation to protect citizens against mob lynching. If a similar law to the one in Manipur could be replicated by various state governments across India, then we could witness a substantial drop in cow vigilante hate crimes. Some communities continue to be directly targeted for persecution and violence by vigilante groups. If new prohibitive and protective legislation can be passed that follow Manipur’s model, reducing these hate crimes will be possible.

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