NEW DELHI—A collective of activists and lawyers are hoping that a one-of-its-kind 24x7 telephone helpline will help prevent lynching attacks as well as double up as a legal assistance service to victims of mob attacks. Announced by the group, called United Against Hate, at a press meet in Delhi on Monday evening, the helpline, 1800-313360000, began functioning on Tuesday afternoon.
Nadeem Khan, one of the core committee members of United Against Hate, said the group’s focus is on Hindi-speaking states, where most of the lynching attacks have taken place.
“It is not only a toll-free number but also a helpline centre. So we will take the call and also process the issues and concerns raised by the caller and provide legal services also,” Khan said.
Since 2014, when the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power at the centre, lynching attacks have become a common headline. While there are no accurate numbers on how many people have been killed by lynch mobs since 2014, some websites put the number for lynchings since 2015 at 95. Many of these attacks have been carried out on Muslim men transporting cattle, on allegations of cow slaughter or cattle theft.
When asked why the group set this up when several police departments have their own toll-free helplines, Khan said that the police often do not play an active role in checking violence.
“Often the police station is only a few kilometres from the spot where lynchings occur and yet the police do not intervene despite the violence going on for hours,” he said.
He cited the example of a 2018 lynching at Godda in Jharkhand, where two Muslim men were accused of being cattle thieves and lynched by a mob. In that incident, he alleged, the police took two hours to reach the spot and the delay in police response cost the two men their lives.
“Suppose we get a call on our helpline, we can call the Circle Officer, reach out to the state and national media, make the official numbers of local police officials public on our website and social media platforms and build pressure on them to act on time,” he said.
Apart from this, groups of local activists who are part of this network will also try and ensure they reach the area as soon as possible to help the victims.
“The establishment of this helpline is a comment on the situation in the country today,” said Delhi University Professor Apoorvanand, who supports the initiative.
Citing the example of the Hapur lynching, in which the attack was registered by the police as a case of road rage, Khan said a network of activists and lawyers from various organisations working with United Against Hate in 100 districts/cities across the country could intervene by providing legal assistance to the families of the victims.
“If the police are not registering the First Information Report properly, we will help the victims in documentation and registering cases with the police and following them up in trial courts properly,” Khan added.
Further, he said, information about such crimes will be updated every 24 hours on a soon-to-be operationalised website called www.unitedagainsthate.in as well as the group’s social media pages.
Among the organisations part of the network that United Against Hate will tap into are the Bhim Army, Jamaat-e-Islami, Jamiat Ulema-e-hind, Jamaat-e-Islami and Alpsankhyak Adhikar.
Aware of the possible challenges in implementing the idea around the country, Khan said the group is focusing first on strengthening its existing network in the Hindi-speaking states, though other states will also have a presence through affiliate organisations.
This will be done by training activists and junior lawyers in multiple cities on how to engage with the police and courts in cases where lynching has already happened. For now, the cities in which trainings have been organised include Ranchi, Patna, Allahabad, Lucknow, Bhopal, Indore, Ahmedabad and Kolkata.
“We will take these cases from trial courts to the High Courts and the Supreme Court as well. There are many cases we are already involved in across the country in trial courts. We have teams of lawyers at different levels,” said Khan.
Apoorvanand told HuffPost India that this effort will help in implementing the rule of law properly on the ground.
“This is meant to help the police and the judiciary. This is not negative but a positive initiative. First as an alarm system and a reinforcement system of support,” he said.
Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde, who guided the process of drafting a law against lynching last year, is also part of this initiative. Hegde explained that this initiative, from the legal side, is essentially, “an effort to document and to force the rule of law to hold itself” to the set standards. “I have always felt that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. In these times of darkness, I hope this candle can throw a little light towards the rule of law,” said Hegde.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.