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Horrors of Mob Violence in West Bengal Point Toward Growing Vigilante Justice

The incident of public flogging of a couple in Chopra in West Bengal is not an isolated case of brutality.

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West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is in the eye of a storm as the video capturing a couple pinned down to the ground and subjected to beastly flogging by a Trinamool Congress goon has gone viral over social media.

The couple was allegedly involved in an 'illicit relationship', vitiating the village environment, and as a result, were meted out the horrors of what was thought to be “insaaf.”     

The public flogging of this couple in Chopra in West Bengal’s North Dinajpur district is not to be seen as an isolated incident of brutality.

In what appears to be a vicious and recurring pattern of extreme cruelty and public dispensation of justice in West Bengal, one is witness to a spurt in such aberrations, clearly indicating an intensifying crisis in the rule of law and a near breakdown of the civil and police administration in the state. 
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Not the First Instance of Mob Justice in Bengal

Chopra exhibited the collapse of the civil and police administration that the Bengal Chief Minister acknowledged in her post-poll election review.

Coming close on the heels of a bitter and fierce election battle, the outrageous public flogging seemed to be an extension of the intense heat, hatred, and friction that was generated over a protracted turf battle and arm flexing by goons sheltered by political outfits. 

Tajemul Haq, the alleged perpetrator seen flogging the couple in the viral video, was a known “Bahubali” of the area with long criminal records.  

Over the past week, public dispensation of justice, brutal and barbaric, recurred in quick succession not merely in the rural backyard of West Bengal but also the urban core. 

At least in five separate incidents over the past week, people have been beaten to death starting from the heart of Kolkata and the tribal homeland of Jhargram, to New Town in Salt Lake, Tarakeshwar in Hooghly district, and Pandua in Burdwan.   

In each of these cases, the legitimate means were subverted by frenzied mobs who took up laws into their own hands. An orgy of violence had been unleashed on victims merely on suspicions and rumour-mongering. 

In a gruesome case in central Kolkata this week, a youth was forcibly picked up from the street by students of a hostel on suspicion of being a mobile thief.

The youth was allegedly locked up in the hostel and mercilessly assaulted with hockey sticks, cricket bats, and other weapons till locals intervened and the police broke through the locked gates.

He was rushed to a nearby hospital where he died. Police have reportedly arrested 14 inmates of the hostel and booked them under murder charges.  

Moreover, Chopra was not far away from Bamangola in Malda district, where one would recall, just a year ago in July 2023, two tribal women were stripped in a local market and beaten up by a mob on alleged charges of shoplifting.

To add salt to injury, the police had taken the two victims in custody before the judiciary finally intervened and set them free.

A subsequent investigation proved the charge against the two women wrong and the court then ordered punitive action against the police for wrongful custody of the two tribal women.   

Just days before the Chopra incident in a post-Lok Sabha election analysis meet, Mamata Banerjee had been verbally “flogging” her own elected party leaders, councillors, cadres, and part of the state administration for failing to deliver services and live up to the expectations of the people.

She charged her own party leadership and cadres for contributing towards a decline in administrative standards and overall governance. “You are busy earning money. You are not serving the people,” she had asserted to her party members. 

Political Ties and Failure of the Justice System

The outburst of the Bengal CM followed close scrutiny of the ballots that reflected a deep malaise within the party set-up.

Though her party Trinamool Congress won more Lok Sabha seats in 2024, the poll results showed that many assembly segments had slipped out of their control and had a BJP majority. 

Within hours of her fiery salvo against her own party leaders, bulldozers were out on Kolkata streets in a rare show of government might to clear unauthorized encroachments – a scene that drew parallels to Yogi Adityanath’s “bulldozer justice” in Uttar Pradesh.  

Coming back to the incident in Chopra, the police registered a suo motu case based on the video against Tajemul Haq and arrested him two days after the incident on the evening of 30 June, Sunday.

On Monday, he was produced before the additional session judge’s court in Islampur where the government public prosecutor brought charges under section 302 of the Indian Penal Code for attempted murder, section 325 for voluntarily causing grievous hurt, and also under sections 323, 341, and 354 for outraging the modesty of a woman. He has now been reportedly remanded to five days of police custody.   

The police said that Tajemul had long criminal antecedents and often displayed his worth in the underworld.

The public prosecutor in the sub-divisional session’s court in Islampur told media persons that Tajemul had 12 criminal cases pending against him, including murder charges and possession of illegal arms.  

The Trinamool Congress MLA of Chopra talking to The Quint said that the attributes of his close associate Tajemul had earned him the title of “JCB” – the full form for which is Joseph Cyril Bamford, a British multinational corporation that manufactured heavy earth moving equipment meant for construction and demolition purposes. 

“Tajemul‘s strong build was likened to a JCB machine and earned him the name,” says the MLA.  

The Chopra assembly gave more 1,00,000 lead in votes to the TMC candidate Hamidul Rahaman in the recently concluded polls. Rahaman has been a four term legislator – twice as Independent and another two terms on TMC ticket.    

“What happened in Chopra was not good,” Rahaman told The Quint. “It was an excess dose of justice that was meted out to the couple by Tajemul,” he rued. “He is in custody now and would have to pay for his excesses.”     

(The writer is a Kolkata-based senior journalist. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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