My notion of vigilante justice has been formed through an overdose of American TV _ TV series, made for TV movies and cinematic movies as well.
The story line almost always follows a similar pattern. The vigilante starts with a motive i.e., he has been affected deeply by some injustice (mostly murder of one or more family members) and the police could not make it right. It is normally a symbol of rampant criminality in the city and the Police are incapable of doing anything about it due to limited resources, corrupt officials, absent judiciary etc. Consequently, the protagonist takes over the mantle of administering justice himself under a guise .
Initially his actions are welcomed by the general public with the exception of few elite and some nutjob in media. Along the way the hero loses his way, or the media starts taking a different perspective, and after one mistake or misreported incident, the population turns against the hero. Now our vigilante is all alone with little or no public support. The movie takes a darker tone after this.
Most of the superhero movies as well as comics follow the same pattern. A cheesy version is Spider Man movie (which gets cheesier with each subsequent episode) where Peter Parker decides to become Spidey after his Uncle Ben is killed.
I haven’t directly followed the current media brouhaha over the extra judicial justice being administered in Shahbaz Sharif’s Punjab. However, people around me have kept me updated by talking, discussing and getting excited over it.
In addition to American movies, my personal thoughts on the topic have been affected by my observations and experiences with law and order situation around me.
In 2004/2005, there were large number of dacoities in North Nazimabad area of Karachi. Occasionally, it was reported, the dacoits would be arrested by the Police. But since the dacoities weren’t going down, it fed the rumor that Police is in collusion with the dacoits and lets them go after arresting them. Then one day, couple of dacoits were captured by the frustrated people of the locality. Rather than handing them over to the Police, they were burnt alive in the street. The dacoities stopped though it is said that later Police made the life miserable for the residents.
If lawlessness prevails, sooner or later vigilantes come. The arrival of Talibans in Swat was justified by the injustices of the feudals over there. The Lal Masjid saga started because reportedly people of the locality asked them for closing down a brothel as the police was not doing anything about it. A clear case of vigilante justice gone wrong.
In 1997/1998, there were rumors of a CHALAWA in Karachi. People talked about a really fast dark colored man harassing people and robbing them. Even my friend bought into it saying that they captured the chalawa in their area. He hadn’t seen the chalawa himself but knew someone who knew someone who knew someone (you know how this works) who captured the chalawa around dawn and reluctantly handed him over to Police knowing that Police will let him go. Anyway, it was reported in the newspapers later that people in a certain locality captured a Chalawa, tied him to the pole and beat him almost to death. Later on, it turned out that he was an innocent gutter cleaner and was going back after working in some gutter. The rumors ended soon afterward.
Do a google search on Hajiano case / white corolla case in Defence, Clifton Karachi and you will find out about a criminal who truly deserves to be dragged in the streets and stoned to death by the public to be made an example for the rest of the criminals out there. Similarly, all those people committing crimes against children (pedophiles) deserve a similar fate.
I did not feel like this till a few months ago. Then my 68 year old uncle was murdered right outside his house by two motorcycle riding robbers for a few rupees that may or may not be in his pocket. Now I am all for vigilante justice because I know that the bastard police is never going to catch the culprits. I am also aware of certain areas where the police officers are actually in connivance with the robbers and dacoits.
I know the argument. Where does one draw the line? If everyone starts administering justice, it will be chaos and bloodshed every where. May be. Or may be it will force the government to finally get their act together.
Coming to the current media stories, the aspect I find abhorring is the Police administering the justice on behest of provincial government. Had it been the towns people or the affectees doing it, I would not find it distasteful. The Police and the government are supposed to maintain order and if they take on the mantle of vigilante justice a.k.a. extra judicial justice in their hand, it means they don’t trust the courts to administer justice. If this is the case, how can one expect the general population to have any trust in courts and the justice system.
Cafe Pyala has a better blog post on the same topic here.