Dr. Anita Samal

Professor, Department of Political Science

“There is nothing more foolish, nothing more given to outrage than a useless mob.” 

Lynching is the term used to describe the execution of a person by a large group of people, most often by hanging the victim. Derived from the famous “Lynch’s Law”, the practice of hanging someone without holding a fair trial came to be known as lynching. Mob lynching is the term used to describe acts of violence committed against a person by an unrestrained crowd with the aim to inflict harm. Mob lynching typically occurs when a mob of irate individuals believe that a person has committed an offence for which no trial has yet been held, and in an effort to exact revenge on the victim, they kill or damage the individual. In such a circumstance, the mob might seize control of the situation, use violence against the offender, destroy property belonging to the public, and endanger people’s lives. Even before a fair trial has taken place, the mob might become hostile and resort to violence against the perpetrator.


The crowd may torture and torment the accused only on the presumption that the accused has committed an offence, and in order to punish the offender, the mob may lynch the offender to death or cause grave harm. This is done under the guise of bringing justice to the victim and punishing the accused.


To understand how otherwise rational and orderly individuals transform into groups of wrathful, vicious and hostile self-proclaimed torchbearers of justice, it is critical to understand the psyche that drives them into this behaviour. 


Gustave Le Bon is a social psychologist who studied crowd mentality and mob psychology in the late nineteenth century. In his research, he explained what constituted a crowd – not just a mere agglomeration of a group of individuals but a disappearance of brain activity, the lowering of intelligence and transforming of sentiments. The sentiments that have been transformed may be better or worse than those of the people who make up the mob. Of this he wrote, “A crowd is as easily heroic as criminal.” 


The sentiments and thoughts of everyone in the group merge, and their conscious personality fades. They now possess a kind of collective mind thanks to their transformation into a group, which enables them to feel, think, and behave in ways that are very dissimilar from what each person would experience if he were alone. Regardless of how similar or dissimilar the individuals that make up the crowd are in terms of their IQ, temperament, lifestyle, or employment, the fact that they have been grouped together gives them access to a kind of collective consciousness. There are some thoughts and emotions that, absent a group of people creating a crowd, do not exist or do not manifest as acts.


This detachment from their own sense of self and with it their sense of right and wrong, principles, beliefs and morals lends them the assurance that they are not individually guilty of anything untoward. As summarized aptly by Voltaire, “No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.” A detachment from their own self and from the guilt is precisely what empowers them to commit acts that shocks the conscience of the rational individual. 


In early 2022, a young man in his 30s was dragged out of his home, brutally thrashed and set on fire for allegedly cutting off some ‘holy trees’ in Jharkhand. In response to a public statement from the neighbourhood temple that the family had killed a calf and consumed its meat, Mohammad Akhlaq was pulled from his house and stoned to death on a village street on September 29, 2015. In 2016, two Muslim cattle dealers from Jharkhand—Ansari, 32, and Imtiaz Khan, 12—were hanged from a tree after a mob accused them of killing livestock. These are a few among the many stories that shocks the conscience of the society and strike fear in the hearts of the audience, wondering if they’d be next. 


Incidences of mob lynching have risen alarmingly high and what is even more harrowing is how neglected the issue remains in mainstream media and discussions. The Ministry of Home Affairs has reported that it discontinued collecting data on mob lynchings as the crime is as of yet undefined. The legal definition of Lynching as crime has not been defined under the Indian Penal Code. In the absence of a legal definition, any data collected cannot be deemed accurate as per the authorities. The lack of legal safeguards protecting the people from these heinous acts of violence creates a serious threat to public safety. It is high time that the government formulates and enacts a law that gives a comprehensive legal definition of the criminal act and undertakes more research projects to understand the issue and programmes to curb the spread of this sweeping phenomenon of mob violence.


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