We are speechless by the brutal death of a man at the hands of a mob that later set fire to his lifeless body as an act of rage for "hurting religious sentiment". Shahidunnabi Jewel and his friend had come from Rangpur in a motorbike and had stopped at a masjid in Lalmonirhat to apparently say their prayers. At one point Jewel, who had mental health problems according to his family, had started to look through the religious books claiming that arms of militants had been hidden amongst them. It is not clear what exactly led to his horrible murder. According to reports, people came inside the mosque accusing Jewel and his friend of violating the sanctity of holy books. A member of the union took them to the nearby Union Parishad building and kept them confined there. But an incensed mob barged into the building and dragged out Jewel beating him to death and then setting him on fire.
Here, two aspects of this incident must be pointed out. One is that the term "hurting religious sentiment" has been incorporated into the law without specifying what it means, thus giving scope for subjective interpretations that have led people to use it as justification for attacking and even killing individuals. Thus it must be clarified what this means and also that it is a violation of law to assault, let alone kill someone for allegedly "hurting religious sentiment". Here we cannot help but ask, does not hurting of religious sentiment also apply to assaults on all religious groups, their properties and places of worship?
The second aspect is this frightening trend of mob justice that has taken the lives of many individuals where the mob has acted as judge, jury and executioner. We have seen instances of mobs beating to death alleged muggers without ascertaining whether they had done any crime. We have seen a mother trying to get her child admitted to a school being beaten to death for being suspected as a kidnapper. We have seen young schoolboys being beaten to death for being suspected as robbers. And now this latest murder by a mob of a 50-year-old, a husband, a father and former librarian who was mentally stressed after losing his job during the pandemic.
The problem with such murders is that it is hard to chargesheet the hundreds of people who took part in this macabre crime. But does this mean they will go scot-free? We hope that the police will do everything in its power to arrest at least the instigators of this murder and punish them according to law. The government must make concerted efforts through all its machineries and others—the police, local administration and religious leaders—to sensitise people to reject this barbaric practice of taking the law into their own hands and taking part in this crime. Mob justice is dangerous and contravenes the legal system. It must be shunned at all costs.