Plain English Summary of Judgment

Cow Vigilantism

Plain English Summary of Judgment

The Supreme Court delivered its judgment in two writ petitions filed by Tehseen Poonawalla and Tushar Gandhi against the growing menace of mob violence.

The first petition was filed by activist Tehseen Poonawalla who sought Court’s intervention in checking  the increasing incidents of cow vigilantism. Mr. Poonawalla  challenged the “good faith clauses” in cow protection legislations where actions taken by private citizens in “good faith”  are given legal immunity. However, the Court in its July 21st 2017 order held that it will not go into the constitutionality of these provisions and restrict itself to addressing mob violence and vigilantism.

The second petition was filed  Mr. Tushar Gandhi who sought Union government’s intervention to curb increasing incidents of cow vigilantism. These petitions were  heard together by the Supreme Court. CJI Dipak Misra delivered the unanimous opinion for the Court. The Court recognised that the acts of lynching where private citizens take law in their own hands is illegal and cannot be condoned.

The judgment came down heavily on the tendency of mob meting out justice by observing that “no individual in his own capacity or as a part of the group can take law into his or their hands and deal with a person treating him as guilty.” The Court added that mob justice in any form are opposed to principles of legal system and inconceivable in a civilised society. The Court feared that if unchecked, lynching may become “the new normal”  and alluded to how United States was once referred to as “the United States of Lyncherdom” due to frequency of lynching incidents.

The Court remarked that the essence  of “unity in diversity” should be imbibed by all citizens. Referring to Emile Durkheim’s statement that  “unity based on heterogeneity and diversity is organic solidarity”, the Court reiterated that heterogeneous culture is India’s strength which is weakened by mob violence culture where citizens are targeted for their ascriptive identities..  The Court relied on  the American case – Riggins v. US, to emphasise that any form of mob justice is opposed to rule of law.

In the end, the Court issued guidelines under Sections 153 and 295A of IPC. The Court cited Shakti Vahini where the Court issued guidelines against Khap Panchayat diktats on inter-caste marriages and issued the following directions covering the arena of preventive, remedial and punitive measures. In issuing the following slew of guidelines, the Court did not restrict itself to specific acts of cow vigilantism but covered all acts of mob lynching or vigilantism:

  • There will be a nodal officer appointed in each district who is not below the rank of Superintendent of Police to prevent incidents of mob lynching and cow vigilantism.
  • Within a period of three weeks the date of the this judgment, the State Governments are required to identify the affected districts where lynching incidents have taken place.
  • An automatic FIR under Section153A, IPC (promoting enmity between different groups) will be registered against individuals who incite people and spread fake news on social media.
  • The State Governments shall prepare a lynching/mob violence victim compensation scheme under Section 357 A of CrPC within one month from the date of the this judgment.
  • The cases of lynching/mob violence shall be tried in fast track Courts in each district – the trail has to be completed within 6 months.
  • The Court recommended that the Parliament should create a separate offence of lynching which should be duly punished.

The Court will continue to monitor the implementation of the guidelines. The next hearing is on August 20th.

Case Documents