Bhagalpur blindings, Gangajal & brutality in Bihar today 4

Brutal and grotesque punishments deter crime better than an inefficient and corrupt legal system argue many

Brutal punishments are back into public debate in India with the airing of the video below. A boy who had snatched a chain from a woman was caught and brutally punished by a mob – relentlessly. A Policeman joined in meting out this “justice” by finishing the act by tying the boy to his bike and dragging him in the road. Even before this furore has died from public debate there has been another mob action today emulating the infamous Bhagalpur blindings epitomised by the movie Gangajal.

The Bhagalpur Blindings

In 1980 many undertrials (people in Jail who have not yet been convicted yet) were tortured by the police by poking needles into their eyes and by pouring acid in their eyes to blind them. The act came out into the public with a series of articles by Indian Express led by Arun Shourie and it took close up pictures of the brutalised eyes to raise the public furore. But furore was not the only sentiment expressed about the incident. There was also a great deal of public support for the incident in the crime prone state (Bihar). The dilemma was brilliantly filmed by Prakash Jha in the movie Gangajal almost two decades after the incident. In Gangajal police gouge out the eyes of goodans used by a local goon winning great public support for the act. The acid is euphemistically called Gangajal (the holy water of Ganga) and people enthusiastically take this method of punishment in the streets in response to crime.  Today a repeat of the incident happened in Bihar where a mob gouged out the eyes of three young men who had stolen a bike at gunpoint from a man. ‘Justice in the street’ has once again become an issue within weeks in Bihar.

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Justice: from courts to streets

There is a genuine frustration in India about long delays in the legal system and the ability of those with money to have their way in the criminal justice system. The lack of confidence judicial and legal system is indeed a context for some of the mob violence in the streets of Bihar today. I am all for street action. But an action of a completely different sort. Criminal justice system in India cannot be rescued without strong democratic protests by us. Mob violence over petty crimes is neither just nor a solution to a crime infested state.

I cannot help noticing that most of these violent incidents are meted to relatively poor people who have indeed committed a crime. Such violence is both crime and punishment – but punishment far in excess of anything that a decent society will consider. Mob punishments, lynching, beating, rape and other forms of violence are undeniable realities in India today. These are chief instruments for keeping ‘people in their place’ be they women who demand a just treatment or a Dalit who wishes to break the injustice of the casteist society. The context of gender, class or caste cannot be ignored in the system of street justice in India. They often go in the name of justice but are nothing more than crime in the garb of justice.

Despite the fact that many see an element of justice in the recent incidents I condemn them for the crime that they are, in the name of human rights and for their ability to justify violence that then becomes an instrument to sustain injustice in India today.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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4 thoughts on “Bhagalpur blindings, Gangajal & brutality in Bihar today

  • Eli

    “I am all for street action.”

    You scared me there for a second!

    I’ve been hearing a lot of people express nostalgia for the days of the Vietnam protests. Why can’t we get our act together with respect to the Iraq war? But it may actually be better that in contemporary parlance, “taking action” (somewhat ridiculously) means sending a letter to one’s Congressperson. People who protest, especially if they get themselves arrested, are considered lunatics these days. It happened in the DC just last weekend. Seems to me that the key to a successful rally is getting people who are part of the “establishment” to headline the event. It’s silly, I know, but alas, “pragmatic.”

    All is well in Syracuse. Gorgeous days, good work at the bioethics department. Recently: racial disparities in tobacco company advertising (2.6 times more billboards in black neighborhoods), and the question of “user fees,” i.e., charging a nominal price (something like 18 cents) for a malaria bednet.

  • Manish

    The incident of Bhagalpur was by no means a correct way for justice,but have we thought what prompted these people to take succha an extreme step??

    It was the sheer negligence of Govt of Bihar , Corruption was flowing in their blood like a virus.
    Each n every politician was backed by some DADA or BHAIYAA of the locality to win the elections.

    People were in succha a fear of all these terrors that even they habituated with these things and slowely all these terror activities of DADA”S became a part of their life and even they started taking it as a part of their life.

    I will say that it was the Heroic Step of by then Police Head that he Dared to Stand again all the Odds, this extreme step was much needed to put a big STOP in the Terror activities.

    But as far as our System dnt get filltered of All these corrupt politicians we are bound to encounter Bhagalpur incidents in coming time.

    WHo is responsible?
    Yes its da major question ….
    Todays Youth has to take charge of the situation and make da difference.

  • Jon

    Some impoverished kid with no education who steals a necklace for 500 rupees makes a tiny negative impact on someone’s life. But we will send him to jail for years for that act. A rich businessman who cuts 100 jobs just to make 10 lakh profits for himself makes a terrible negative impact on hundreds of lives. But that’s perfectly legal.