18th of January 2019.
A news circulates around the web that the prime accused of a rape case has been found dead in Savar. The body carried with it a note stating ‘I am the main culprit behind the rape’. The news leaves the law enforcers dumbfounded. The bullet ridden body was of Ripon, who was accused of gang-raping a 16 year old.
January 26th 2019.
Police in Jhalakathi recovers the dead body of a youth who was a suspect in a rape case. This one also had a printed note that was tied around its neck which said:
“I am Sajal. I am the rapist of [victim’s name]. This is my punishment.”
This is the second time in a row when a rape suspect met their fate at the hands of someone other than the law enforcement. In both cases, the victims were accused of the same henious act. And the one/ones behind the killing are mysteriously unknown. Hence, it is fair to ask, could this be the rise of Vigilante Justice in Bangladesh?
Vigilante Justice, according to Cornell Law, are the “actions of a single person or group of people who claim to enforce the law but lack the legal authority to do so“. We see it being romanticized in popular fictions where the hero takes matters in his own hand when justice is not served. One such fictional character is of Frank Castle (The Punisher) published by Marvel Comics.
However, in real life, neither the vigilante wears a cape, nor he gets legal immunity. It is much more complicated. The vigilante, in the process, commits an unlawful act himself and is equally an offender in the eye of law.
Vigilantism is not uncommon around the world. There is a Leeds-based group in the UK called the ‘Paedophile Hunters’ who track internet paedophiles and shame them online. So does groups like, ‘The Daemon Hunter‘ and ‘Protecting the Innocent’.
Such groups co-ordinate ‘sting operations’ against suspects, often filming them and gathering evidence to make their lives miserable. Looking at the statistics, it can be seen that these groups have contributed to the eventual prosecution of child sex offenders in UK. However, Vigilante Justice cannot always be reasonable. There are reports of innocent persons being killed in India over cow slaughter, sparking communal violence.
In Bangladesh, although this ‘drive’ against rapists is new, the practice of mob justice has been there for a while. It is mostly common in the rural areas, involving merciless beating of thieves and dacoits. In almost all situations, the victims of such public lynching rarely makes it alive.
What does the law say about this?
It is technically not illegal to stand up against injustice. But involving in any unlawful activities could certainly get someone arrested. No person is entitled to take the law in their own hands.
In the Bangladesh Penal Code, there are no laws that specifically talk about public lynching. Hence it relies on the existing laws on murder and unlawful assembly. The Penal Code recognizes common intention, common object, abetment which are sufficient to try anyone involved in vigilante justice.
Vigilantism is motivated from the belief that the justice system has become ineffective to ensure proper punishment to offenders. It emerges from the frustration of the lack of law and order, while at the cost of giving in to many other unlawful acts. In this process, many innocent persons also become victims. But what about the habitual rapists in Bangladesh?
There is a disturbing rise of rape cases in Bangladesh. A total of 17000 rape cases were filed in the last four years, according to its Home Minister, Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal. The number keeps on creeping up.
There are instances when accused persons get away with paying bribes, while justice seekers remain in agony. Rapists on bail repeat their offence making a total mockery of the justice system.
In such situation, mysterious characters intervene, making the right authorities realize their responsibility. Although it cannot be glorified in anyway, but whoever safeguards the interests of the citizens, are no less than heroes to them, be it law enforcement agencies or vigilantes.