Author: Ghanishtha Shrivastava, III year of B.A.,LL.B.(Hons.) from Damodaram Sanjivayya National law University, Vizag
Back in August 2004, in daylight, around 200 women with knives, stones, chili powder, and whatnot, stormed into Nagpur's district court and killed an accused. All these women then left the place, went back to their area, told their husbands about the incident as an accomplishment and all celebrated like it was a festival.
Here is the backdrop, Bharat Kalicharan a.k.aAkku Yadav was a gruesome Gangster who had committed several rapes, murders, robberies, extortion, and kidnappings. He was such a notorious criminal that he had made a business out of it and even the police sold themselves to him in exchange for money and drinks. The whole slum he resided in was sick of him and frustrated because of all the suffering and Akku going unpunished every time. Hence, one day while he was being taken to the court for a bail hearing, the people heard that seems like he is going to be released as usual, and this became the reason for his murder.
People of the city and especially people around the concerned area were on cloud nine. A Netflix documentary was also made on it in which people commented on being proud of these women.
Is vigilante justice, correct?
But then this incident opens a few facets. From the legal perspective, was this correct? The answer to this is a blunt no! Killing someone can never be justified unless for private defence. The women here took the laws into their hands which was unacceptable and so were 4 women arrested after the incident. The act was that of ‘vigilante justice’ where women lacked any authority or sanction by law. Everything can be subjected to misuse and vigilante justice is no different, this can also soar violence or even lead to misidentification. As these types of acts take place outside the legal purview, it can result in great abuse of powers and excessive force. This also undermines the legitimacy of legal system. Our constitution mentions the rights of an accused which should be protected and the accused must be provided with a fair trial no matter what. Hence it should be made sure that proper procedure is followed to seek justice.
Arguments for vigilante justice
But then morally, Akku Yadav was indeed a monster. People enjoy when justice is served and they root for such vigilantism. They understand such an act of killing is of course wrong but this comes out of human tendency and nature which includes feelings of vengeance, anger, and frustration seeing the killer and rapist accused walking around freely. Akku would always enter the court and face the trials confidently. Once he also spotted a woman he had raped, called her a prostitute, and said he would meet her again. All this happened in front of the police who shamelessly laughed. Taking about vigilante justice in this context, the actions lead to swift action against his inhumane behaviour. Law enforcement here was corrupt and vigilante groups filled the gaps and ensure protection to all. Hence the people could just not afford Akku to be back in the village. After the police arrested the women behind the lynching, they had to release them after witnessing demonstrations around the city.
Our ‘Not up to the mark’ Criminal justice system
This opens the last facet, which is the failure of the criminal justice system. The victims in the case were so helpless that they were forced to do this. The victims mostly were rape survivors, the justice system did not provide them with even basic protection and they were constantly in fear. The second is delayed and ineffective justice. The more an evident trial is delayed, the more people lose trust in the system, and the fact that for so many years he continued the crime was the result of not being able to affect any deterrence or chilling effect in the society. All the crimes he committed were open to the eyes of the public and so brutal that they cannot be described and yet he was a free man for an indefinitely long period. Even the police blindly supported him there was an inefficient investigation into his every matter, forcing the women to choose for the last resort.
The intent here was not to justify the act of women but basically to observe different perspectives this incident can be viewed from. Coming August 2023 will complete 19 years of this incident and the saga of debate of vigilante justice continues.