Recently, nearly 30 people were killed and scores were wounded as supporters of Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh protested the rape verdict against him. The riots led to the suspension of the internet, disruption in public routine, shut down of shops, colleges and offices. The unrest and disorder in the state of Haryana caused by some communist goons, where cars, buses and trains were burnt along with damage to public property led to the deployment of Special Forces restore order. The rioters created a havoc in major parts of North India, spreading a nation-wide panic and imposition of curfew in the riot-affected areas.
Riots and mob clashes are those communicable diseases which are fatal for the unaffected ones. According to the law on riots in India, Section 146 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 states that-
“Whenever force or violence is used by an unlawful assembly, or by any member thereof, in the prosecution of the common object of such assembly, every member of such assembly is guilty of the offence of rioting.”
The word ‘force’ is defined in Section 349
of the Code and it is restricted to force used against persons only. The word ‘violence’ has not been defined in the Code. Violence is not restricted to force used against persons only but extends also to use of force against property.
However, the mere use of force by a number of men assembled does not render all of them liable for rioting. The essence of the offence lies in the use of force to achieve a common purpose. There must be at least five persons involved in such activities and force should be used in the prosecution of the common object.
The main problem arises while determining the liability of rioters. Ascertaining evidence against an individual in a mob of people is a tedious and almost impossible task. The complexity here lies in trying to fit one’s actions within the closely defined categories and degrees of criminal culpability as opposed to if he had committed a crime just by himself.
There is an apprehension of charging an individual who had minor participation in the act with a grievous punishment. Other than that, there are several factors which are to be taken into account in such matters, including the nature of the trial, whether or not there was the use of violence, the authenticity of a testimony of witnesses, existence of a common object, liability and extent of culpability of each accused.
In matters related to riots, the discretion remains with the Court whether to order a separate or a joint trial depending upon which of the two would better serve the purpose of justice in riot cases. Section 223(a) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 provides that persons accused of the same offence, committed in the course of the same transaction, may be charged and tried together. Courts may consider it convenient to dispose of such cases in a single judgment.
Also, a charge of rioting presupposes the existence of an unlawful assembly with a common object as defined in Section 141 of the IPC. The existence of common object among the members and whether they were actuated by it is an essential in order to establish the crime. This is ascertained from the surrounding facts and circumstances concerning the crime.
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