Nepali Times
Vanguards of vigilantism


Last week, two Indian tourists were beaten up by locals in Tanahu because they were taking pictures of children. The locals thought the tourists were kidnappers.

In Chapagaon, a 10-hour curfew had to be imposed to restore calm after police rescued two people being mercilessly beaten up after being falsely accused of trying to abduct children.

This week, Gongabu was closed off after locals descended on the streets accusing police of protecting two people they had beaten up on suspicion of being kidnappers. All week, reports came in of locals supposedly thwarting kidnapping attempts in Kirtipur, Maitighar and Bag Bajar.

But worst was yet to come. Two students were lynched to death by locals in Bhaktapur after a fight between two groups of students deteriorated into a mob frenzy and locals suspected the attackers of being abductors.

Two others were beaten up but survived, and gave a statement to the police saying that they were not in Thimi area to kidnap children.

In all the above incidents, innocent people were lynched or killed on mere suspicion of being kidnappers. These violent incidents, coming after the abduction and murder of student Khyati Shrestha last month by her kidnapper, have left deep scars on the Nepali psyche, especially among parents and their children.

The fear is turning to paranoia and, fed by rumours, is leading to mob violence. The locals who beat two students to death on Tuesday were probably parents themselves who were so terrified and angry that they took the law into their own hands without thinking about the consequences.

Much has been said about a state that is too weak to control the spike in crime. But what about those who are resorting to crime themselves by being the law onto themselves?

True, it is fuelled by the inability of the state security apparatus to deliver prompt justice, but it is clear from the incidents in Kathmandu last week that more individuals with no authority or accountability are taking law into their own hands. Vigilantism can't be justified by the incapacity of the state to enforce the law.

Our society lost faith in the police after the politicisation of the force after 1990 and its involvement in the dirty Maoist war. The distrust is still so deep that individuals are willing to take be the law onto themselves than report incidents to the police.

People have seen the police being manhandled by teenagers blocking the road. The fear of punishment that acted as a deterrence is no longer there. The police is often seen to be politically motivated, corrupt and giving protection to the accused. Justice is much quicker with an enraged mob that can be motivated to terrorise, threaten and even murder.

Nepal Police in Kathmandu has enough manpower to reach anywhere in the Valley in a matter of minutes when an incident is reported. But that is not how the public sees them. They are known more for their apathy, for being mere bystanders.

There is no other way to explain what happened in Thimi on Tuesday. As a society, we have become divided, angry, bitter people. What started out in the Tarai has now spread to the capital. The desperation and frustration is so strong that it is manifesting itself into the kind of terrifying and unpredictable rage that led to the lynching of two innocent boys in Thimi this week.

And at the root of all this is the chronic political instability, the uncertainty, impunity and the lack of moral authority of our rulers. Unless that is addressed, just improving law enforcement is not going to reduce the crime wave and the vigilantism with which a disheartened public is responding to it. Otherwise we are going to turn into a society where anarchy is considered normal and the law of the jungle will hold sway.

More insecure - FROM ISSUE #459 (10 JULY 2009 - 16 JULY 2009)

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)