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The age of vigilante justice?

Monday, 12 November 2012 - 7:00am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
This incident made me wonder: why is it that Indians are increasingly taking things, especially matters of their security, into their own hands? Is that a good thing, or is it something to be afraid of?

Last week, 61-year-old Uma Ganatra and her neighbour Krupa Thakkar, 28, foiled a robbery in a flat in their building. Ganatra, who had heard a noise from the flat above and got suspicious because its owners were not at home, went upstairs with Thakkar to investigate what was happening.

The duo surprised the four-odd robbers in the flat who were armed with choppers. After being taken by surprise, the robbers ran out of the flat but were caught by other residents and handed over to the cops. The women are now going to be felicitated by the police for their bravery So far, so good.

Now think of another scenario. What if the women were attacked when they went upstairs? It was possible. They were two unarmed women against four armed men. What could have happened? We would most likely have had a tragedy, not a felicitation ceremony, on our hands. This is not to say that the women did wrong; they were right to be alert. But instead of risking their lives, they should have called the police or other residents before confronting the robbers.

This incident made me wonder: why is it that Indians are increasingly taking things, especially matters of their security, into their own hands? Is that a good thing, or is it something to be afraid of?

It seems we all have become so cynical about the functioning of the government and its agencies that we work on the premise that there’s absolutely no point depending on them.

Think about it. Each time there’s a burglary, instead of insisting that the local police chowki steps up beat patrolling in the area, citizens hire more security guards or install CCTVs and intercoms.
Because of increasing car thefts, we put fancy technology in our cars to deter thieves from targeting them, and then we track these cars down ourselves when they are stolen like a case a few months ago. Some of us have even started tracking stolen cell phones ourselves with the help of inbuilt trackers designed for such situations.

Needless to say, government agencies welcome such proactive behaviour possibly because it means less work and less expenditure for them. But there’s a risk in this: where do we stop?
Mumbai and the rest of India has seen innumerable cases of vigilante justice in the past. There have been cases in which people who feel they have been wronged, or simply suspected others to be a threat to their safety, have acted on their feelings. So you have incidents like one earlier this year when a man, suspected to be a robber, was beaten to death by locals in Kandivli. A year or two ago, another man was beaten to death by a mob who accused him of snatching a chain in Virar.

When citizens start taking things into their own hands for whatever reason, who will tell them where to draw the line? Is this an indication of a future in which each one of us takes upon himself or herself the duty to hand out justice to those who wrong us?
I don’t know; maybe I’m just being paranoid, but the very thought is scary indeed.


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