On 31 August 2019, West Bengal became the third state in the country to pass an anti-lynching, after Manipur and Rajasthan. The Bill called the ‘The West Bengal (Prevention of Lynching) Bill, 2019’ was supported by the majority party, Trinamool Congress as well as opposition parties, Congress and CPI(M).
The BJP legislative leader, Manoj Tigga, said that his party opposed the bill, but the party members did not vote either for or against the bill.
Less than a week since the Bill was passed, two incidents of lynchings were reported in the state. One case involved two people. One was a 37-year-old Dharam Singh, originally from Jharkhand. The other victim was an unidentified differently-abled man. They were physically beaten by a mob on suspicion of being child kidnappers. Both victims survived the lynching, but have been hospitalized and are in critical condition. The lynching occurred in the Jalpaiguri district.
The other case involved a Sabir Sheik, a 31-year-old carpenter, who recently had a quarrel, was attacked by a mob when attempting to visit a doctor. He was tied and beaten with rocks and is suspected to have died by the time the police arrived. The lynching occurred in the Murshidabad district.
It is still too soon to see how effective the bill will be in preventing lynchings, but as with Manipur and Rajasthan, the West Bengal anti-lynching bill is modeled after the Supreme Court guidelines and provides a nodal officer to control lynchings and a system of compensation for survivors of families of the victim. The punishments for those involved in lynching are already prescribed under the Indian Penal Code. These anti-lynching bills only add a nodal officer and a better compensation scheme.
The anti-lynching bills have been opposed by the BJP both in Rajasthan as well as in West Bengal on the grounds that anti-lynching legislation could be used politically and lynching can be fought within the current legal system. It is true that punishments for those accused of lynching are already covered under existing criminal codes. What the anti-lynching bills introduce are certain institutional mechanisms to prevent lynchings and to protect victims of lynching.
Studies have shown that lynchings target people who are socially and economically marginalized. In recent cases, victims were marginalized in a number of ways, be it in terms of disability, being migrants, religious minorities, or economically poor. Lynchings often lead to the local population and police to demonize and criminalize the victims. To be effective, it is important to work on reducing vulnerability due to being marginalized and to undo the social damage caused by lynching to the victim and family.
These bills, therefore, do not go far enough prevent lynchings and protect victims, but the past decade has shown that leaving those details up to the government in charge will lead to lynchings to be used politically and misuse of the legal system. These systems can only create architecture for secular and progressive movements to work within.