Punjab Notes Mob justice: state and society We witness mob justice in an increasing scale all across Punjab in response to the crimes, petty and heinous, whose end we do not see anywhere soon in the foreseeable future.
We in no way mean the terrorist acts which are of course crimes but altogether of different nature and dimension.
Crimes mean crimes such as theft, mugging, robbery and kidnapping. We are not concerned with crimes at the moment.
Our main concern here is the effect crimes have on the people and the public response they evoke in the context of state and society that have lost their most important tools: the former its writ and the latter its equilibrium.
In order to understand the phenomenon of mob justice we should first try to understand the nature of the mob that apparently has unstructured structure, formless form and shapeless shape.
Elias Canetti in his “Crowds and Power” brilliantly discovers and analyses the nature and dynamics of different types of crowds and their relationship with power, internally generated and external, and how they ultimately serve the interests of rulers.
He divides the crowds generally into four types of packs; hunting pack, war pack (an evolved form of hunting pack), lamenting pack and the increase pack.
The kind of crowd we see in our cities and towns meting out justice to the alleged criminals who happen to be caught while committing crimes or merely on suspicion may be described as a kind of ‘vengeful crowd’. Vengeful crowd though emitting unmistakable signals of wild and unrestrained power is driven by fear which is unenviable result of crisis of self-preservation triggered by faltering writ of fragile state.
Self-preservation is fundamental instinct. At times process of self-preservation due to myriad factors turns into crisis of self-preservation. And this precisely is the situation we are faced with in Punjab.
The situation needs to be analysed at multiple levels taking into account the role state and society play in conducting the affairs of humans whether individual or collective. The state in our context has to shoulder the main responsibility for the unintended creation of visible and invisible violence prone crowds that through their highly unpredictable behaviour can lead to social anarchy.
The reasons in simple words are rooted in the framing of national imperatives or strategic national vision by the institutions and power wielders in the last four decades.
Pakistani establishment in its wisdom put the Hobbesian notion of the state on its head; it conceded the right of use of force to non-state actors that later proved Frankenstein monsters as predicted by sane political thinkers.
Non-state actors and groups while pursuing the policy objectives dictated by the establishment developed their own politico-ideological agenda in conjunction with international terror groups.
And when these actors were denied space beyond national territories, for example in Afghanistan, by foreign and international powers that conceived them to be a threat to their geo-political goals, they turned their guns inwards in their millenarian dream to cleanse the society of “evil” of western way of life.
Their ranks swelled exponentially with the large scale induction of new recruits churned out by extremist educational outfits. That unleashed an ever accelerating process of internal social strife fuelled by literalist interpretation of faith, exclusive ideology and sectarianism.
The situation has been exacerbated by lack of interest in imposing rule of law by bureaucracy and civil institutions plagued by corruption, inaction and incompetence.
Civil institutions have been politicised because of massive interference in appointments of officials, their postings and functioning by political parties and politicians.
Officials have been made answerable to their political bosses, not the state of which they are a permanent fixture. They have left the people to fend for themselves rendering them nervous wrecks and thus extremely vulnerable to pulls and pushes of animal instincts and dark psychic forces working at subterranean level.
Emergence of vigilante groups also reflects the failure of society in the sense that rapid urbanisation has caused the loss of community instinct which helped society become safe and free of crimes as the members never dropped their guard and thus kept the aliens and criminals at bay. The death of joint or extended family and the rise of nuclear family prompt you to treat even your neighbours as beings from a different planet.
Anonymity of modern life has made it easier to commit crimes without the fear of being recognized and shamed.
Punjabi word for mob is “Hayrh” and it is revealing. “Hayrh” in Punjabi means a mob as well as a pack of animals. The word unmistakably hints at what is common between a pack of animals and a mob; the propensity to go violent or become uncontrollable and destructive.
Mob like a pack of animals is unable to differentiate. Ability to differentiate is what sets humans apart from beasts. That’s the reason that many innocent men and women have fallen victims to the frosty fury of mobs in Punjab on mere suspicions in the recent times in the wake of high incidence of crimes such as robbery and child kidnapping. Paranoia rules the roost. Remember Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar? After the assassination of Caesar the angry mob in search of assassins spots a man called Cinna who it thinks, is one of the conspirators.
He pleads: “I am not Cinna the conspirator…I am Cinna the poet”. “Kill him for his bad verses”, comes the shout from the mob. Beware; vengeful mobs are out in the streets in Punjab. Distrustful of law and forsaken by the state, they suffer from extreme sense of insecurity that borders on paranoia.
Every stranger appears to them an enemy or a criminal in disguise who deserves to be lynched in public. And they relish lynching because there is no one to dissuade them; the state has no writ and society is bereft of compassion as a result of loss of communal living.