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Last Updated: Thursday, 13 September 2007, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
Where lynching is the order of the day
By Amarnath Tewary
BBC News, Patna

A man who survived the lynching at Vaishali district, Bihar, being taken to the hospital [Pic: Prashant Ravi]
Vigilante justice has become common in Bihar Pics: Prashant Ravi
Vigilante justice appears to have become the order of the day in the lawless northern Indian state of Bihar.

The latest incident in which 10 men suspected to be thieves were lynched by a group of villagers in Vaishali district on Thursday underscored the people's frustration with the police.

The villagers said that they were fed up with rising theft for the last two months in spite of informing the police regularly.

"But when the police did not take any action we started patrolling our village ourselves to catch the thieves. Today we succeeded in catching them and did justice then and there," said a villager who preferred to remain unnamed.

Losing faith

The villagers of Vaishali are not the only ones to dish out vigilante justice to suspected thieves and burglars in Bihar.

Two weeks ago, in bustling Bhagalpur town, a mob nearly beat to death a man who was accused of snatching a gold chain from a woman.

What was more shocking was the fact that the incident took place in the presence of two policemen who were filmed by a local news channel dragging the man on their motorcycle.

On 9 September alone, there were three particularly horrific cases of public lynchings and beatings.

First, three suspected motorcycle thieves were caught by villagers in Nawada district and brutally beaten up with sticks, stones and metal rods.

The enraged mob even gouged out an eye of one of the suspects, Tinku Singh, with a pointed iron tool. The three men were taken to hospital.

Then, two men caught stealing material at a thermal power station in Begusarai district were beaten up by locals in the presence of policemen.

Bihar policemen
Police are accused of thinking themselves above the rule of law
They were later shot dead by unknown persons - and the locals said the police had fired on them. The police deny killing the men.

And in Nawada district, two children, aged 13 and 12 years, were beaten up by locals and paraded with their heads shaved for allegedly stealing salt and detergents from a local grocery where they were employed.

Such mob anger is not restricted to the villages alone.

Crime wave

Some six months ago, people in the Sultanganj area in the state capital, Patna, lynched a suspected criminal in full public view.

Earlier, three alleged criminals were nearly beaten to death in the posh Rajendra Nagar of the capital. The police arrived and allegedly shot them dead in front of a cheering mob.

Bihar has been India's most lawless state for many years now, and a change in government two years ago doesn't seem to have improved matters much.

Have the people lost their faith in the police completely to indulge in such wanton acts of vigilante justice?

"No, it means that under the present regime, people have become more confident and daring. They do not fear the criminals now," state home secretary Afzal Amanullah says.

Social scientist Shaibal Gupta does not agree.

"This only reveals the state of Bihar. People think justice will not be delivered. So they resort to instant justice by lynching the culprit," he says.

It is true that there has been no let-up in the public complaints against police inaction in the state.

Last Monday, at his weekly meeting with members of the public, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar received some 1,600 complaints against police officials.

Protests against kidnapping in Bihar
Over 2,000 people have been abducted this year
"There is still a lot to do to reform the police. They are not pro-people," admitted Mr Kumar.

Even after his government tried to restore sagging public confidence in the police with a range of new measures - speedy trials, giving police a free hand to conduct investigations and appointing new officers in many districts - crime remains stubbornly high.

For example, a total of 4,849 cases of kidnappings were registered in the state between July 2006 and June 2007, according to a report presented in the local high court recently.

More than 2,000 people were abducted in the state in the first half of this year.

"The new regime seems to have failed to stem the crime wave," says businessman Ashish Kumar.

Bihar opposition leader Shyam Rajak says people have "no option, but to lynch criminals" when crime is so high.

It would seem that Bihar needs to tackle crime on a war footing to restore the people's confidence in the police and the criminal justice system.

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