Case Analysis: Tehseen Poonawalla v/s Union Of India
Unity in diversity is the motto that the largest democratic country in the
world beholds. The constitution of India strengthens this approach of its
people. Fundamental rights embodied in part III of the constitution of India
guarantee civil rights to the citizens. It empowers the citizens of India with
the freedom to exercise certain rights and it is the duty of the government to
protect these rights of its citizen. Also, the government of India should be
capable of protecting the minority section of its people from the illegal acts
of the majority.
Laws are essential for the well functioning of the democracy. Laws are enacted
with an aim to reduce crimes. These laws are to be followed by the people. No
citizen is above the law. But for the people to strictly follow the law, the
violators of the law need to be punished. It is important to know that this
punishment should only be done by the administration. No private people,
political parties or anyone other than the administration have the right to do
so. The person who violated the law must be allowed a fair trial and the
punishment should be done accordingly.
Over the recent years, there had been an increase in violence against people by
mobs just because they were engaged in the trading of cows. Cow vigilante
violence is the use of physical force in the name of cow protection. India had
witnessed certain people taking law in their hands and lynching people in the
name of cow protection by blaming them for cow slaughter. Such extra-judicial
killing by the mobs mainly targeted the minority community and this heightened
sense of insecurity in them. The very existence of mob lynching questions the
authority of the state and shows a negative impact on the justice system.
In this landmark case of Tehseen Poonawalla vs. Union of India and others, the
bench led by former CJI Deepak Mishra which comprising of A.M. Khanwilkar and Dr
D.Y. Chandrachud, JJ passed a judgement in order to tackle this situation
present in the country. This judgement highly criticized the incidents of mob
lynching and has caused a major shift in the manner in which this crime was
handled before the passing of this judgement.
As the number of incidents of cow vigilantism kept on increasing in the nation,
three individuals, namely Martin Macvan, a Dalit right activist, Mohanbhai Hamir
Bhai Bedva, an alleged victim of such violence and Tehseen Poonawalla, an
activist lawyer filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court of India in August
2016 in order to take action against these cow vigilantes and provide justice to
the victims of these mob lynching incidents. The petitioners asked the Supreme
Court to issue notice to the central and state governments to take action
against cow vigilantes.
The petitioners brought to the attention of the court the increasing incidents
of cow vigilantism around the nation. They made the Supreme Court to notice
these acts by mobs where private people violently punished others who they
suspect of consuming beef. The petitioners filed this writ on the basis of
increasing cow vigilantism all over the nation. In 2015, a mob of villagers
attacked a 52-year-old Mohammed Akhlaq blaming him for stealing and slaughtering
a calf. In the attack, Mohammed Akhlaq died and his son 22 years old, Danish
were severely injured. Later the state government issued a report stating that
Mohammed Akhlaq didnít store the beef for consumption.
Another incident of cow vigilantism is seen when 7 members of a Dalit family
were assaulted by a mob in the name of cow protection in Una, Gujarat. The most
recent case of cow vigilantism is the case of Pehlu Khan. In this case, Pehlu
Khan and his son were thrashed by the cow vigilantes in the name of cow
protection in suspicions of cow smuggling. On the basis of these cases and many
other similar cases, the petitioners asked the supreme court of India to
intervene in this situation and take necessary actions.
6 states which include Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Jharkhand, Gujarat
and Karnataka enacted laws that protect such cow vigilantes for their illegal
acts in the name of cow protection. These states enacted laws that prevent any
legal action against persons for actions done in good faith.
For example the section 13 of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976
gives that ďno suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall be instituted
against any person for anything which is in good faith or intended to be done
under this Act or rules made there underĒ. Such acts by these governments helped
the cow vigilantes to hide behind them. They justified their lynching by these
acts. The petitioners thus asked the supreme court of India to revoke these acts
and ask the union government to take actions against cow vigilantes.
The petitioners were represented by Indira Jaising, Kapil Sibal, Colin Gonsalves
and Sanjay Hegde while the defenders were represented by Tushar Mehta, Ranjit
Kumar, Hemantika Wahi and Shreyas Jain.
No citizen is above the law. Every law breaker must be punished. But it is
important to note that punishment should be done by the administration not the
private citizen. No private people have the right to punish other no matter
what. By stating the case of Wilson v. Garcia, the court held that every person
equal before the law and no person shall take law to his own hand.
It is the duty of the state to protect its people. The government canít allow
innocent people to be tortured by other private citizens by taking law in their
hands. The state canít allow communal violence in the name of cow protection. In
the case of Mohd. Haroon and others v. Union of India and others, the court held
that it is the responsibility of the state administration to prevent communal
India is a diverse nation in terms of culture and others. It is important for
such a nation to be united in these diversities. If the nation splits itself in
the name of cow protection, it will end up in the total demolition of the
largest democratic country in the world. In the state of Karnataka and another
v. Dr. Praveen Bhai Thogadia, the court stresses on the importance of the
principle unity in diversity in a nation like India.
Tehseen Poonawalla vs. Union of India represents one of the most
important cases in modern day India. It deals with cow vigilantism, a present
day noxious act. In this judgement by the supreme court bench led by former CJI
Deepak Mishra cow vigilantism were tore down as a social evil and the court
stressed on the duty of the state to prevent such acts. It is to be noted that
the court not only stated against cow vigilantism but issued guidelines to
prevent it. The court didnít stop with guidelines but included punitive measures
and remedies against this act. In short the court condemned the act of cow
What the court faced in this case were an important social issue which affected
the integrity of the nation. Killing of people by other private person in the
name of cow protection not only deprive the fundamental rights of these people
but also affects the face of the largest democratic country in the world. A
nation must be able to protect its minority. More than that killing of its
people in the name of an animal cannot be justified in any manner. Laws are set
up with an aim to prevent crime.
But for this aim to be successful there is a need of discipline in the system.
The law violators should of course be punished. But this punishment must be done
in a specific way. The violator must be provided with a free trial and if found
guilty must be punished by the administration. The punishment in no way could be
done by a private citizen. No private person can punish another assuming that
person to have committed a crime. Even if a person has committed a crime,
another private person has no authority over him to punish. Instead he should
inform the authority of the act that has taken place.
It has to be noted that the court did take an almost appropriate decision. The
court not only blamed the act of cow vigilantism but also asked the state to do
necessary acts to prevent it. Preventive measures were set up by the court for
The court was well aware of the current situation and provided guidelines to
prevent cow vigilantism. The court agreed to the petitionersí argument that the
cow vigilantes must be punished and punitive measures were introduced to do so.
Remedial measures were put forward with an intention to make right to those who
were the victims of such acts.
Although the court stated the cow vigilantism to be against the law and stressed
on the necessity of abolishing such acts by introducing several guidelines,
punitive measures, remedial measures and preventive measures it didnít address
the constitutional validity of the immunity provisions of the cow vigilantes
given in the laws enacted by several states in the country. Thus this judgement
although almost appropriate canít be stated as a perfect one.
The court started its judgement by stating the importance of the existence of
law. The court made it clear in the judgement that the administration of law is
to be done by law enforcing agencies and not by any private person. This was of
course one of the issues related with cow vigilantism and the court did make
sure to address it. The court further stressed this issue by involving cases
related to it. This finding of the court which made it clear that no person can
do illegal acts by disguising as protecting the law did in fact shred cow
vigilantism into pieces.
The court was very much serious on preventing such acts that the court along
with the preventive measures suggested a special task force to provide
intelligence reports on those subjects who are likely to commit such acts. The
court also insisted that the Director-General of Police and the Secretary of
Home Department of the state to conduct meeting regarding the issue of cow
vigilantism at least once a quarter with nodal officers and state police
An effective method for the prevention of cow vigilantism was suggested by the
petitionersí advocate Ms. Indira Jaising. Court agreed to this suggestion which
was to assign police patrol in sensitive areas. The court also made a
recommendation to the parliament to create a specialised offence for mob
lynching and to provide appropriate punishment for the wrong doers.
It is to be noted that the court although directed these decisions it failed to
give an adequate definition for mob lynching. This of course has to be seen as a
failure from the part of the court as this omission leads to further
complications regarding the prevention of such illegal acts.
The court also held in its judgement that it is the duty of the state to make
sure that the private person doesnít take law in its hand. The court kept on
stressing this point several times showing the importance. Although it should be
noted that even though the court did say that state is bound to protect the
innocent people from mob lynching the court didnít determine the
constitutionality of the immunity given by several states to the cow vigilantes.
The court also said that it is the responsibility of the authority, which is the
state to make sure that such acts of vigilantism doesnít take place. No one
should have the mind set to take law in their own hands and punish other person
even though that person has committed a crime. The court were clear on this
point as the court in its judgement said that the court could without any fear
state that such barbaric and unruly acts of mob lynching cannot be allowed to be
rule of the day.
The court emphasized on the principle of unity in diversity. The court drew out
several cases in which the unity in diversity mentality of the nation was
highlighted. The court was of the view that, in a nation like India where unity
is given immense importance such acts of cow vigilantism cannot be allowed. Mob
lynching in the name of cow protection cannot be justified in any manner. India
is a large nation with an even larger population.
Even in these conditions the citizens of the nation did had a kind of unity
among them. Such a unity being damaged in the name of cow protection is one of
worst thing that a democratic country could face. The court also made a
significant point by highlighting that in India, right to life and liberty is
considered to be paramount and an act of cow vigilantism cannot be allowed to
violate it. No matter what kind of crime a person has committed, he or she
deserves free trial and punishing that person by the private people is not
The decision made by the court is of course reasonable. The court was able to
clearly state the reason why such an illegal act of cow vigilantism must be
stopped. This case is on a crime which is continually committed in the present.
Thus, this judgement will change or cause a shift in the manner in which the
crime of cow vigilantism will be handled. Also all the guidelines, punitive
measures, remedial measures and preventive measures put forward by the supreme
court of India should be enacted.
Judgement of this case can be said as an almost appropriate one. The guidelines
issued by the Supreme Court of India would of course help in reducing the
illegal act of cow vigilantism. Similarly the preventive measures will also
contribute to the prevention of such acts. Remedial measures so suggested by the
Supreme Court will provide some relief to the victims or families of the victims
of the act of cow vigilantism.
Punitive measures will help in case of punishing those who have committed the
act of mob lynching in the name of cow protection. Even though court did put
forward all these remedies and firmly stood against the act of cow vigilantism,
it canít be said that court did everything it could against such act through
It was stressed in the judgement that the state is responsible for preventing
such crime of cow vigilantism and it should not allow any private people to
punish other in any way. But it is to be noted that certain states such as
Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jharkhand and Karnataka did
include an immunity provision in the animal protection acts of these states
which in a way protected the cow vigilantes.
The Supreme Court of India did not address whether such an act were
constitutionally valid or not. Although the court expressed the act of cow
vigilantism as a crime and put forward guidelines and several preventive,
punitive and remedial measures which it asked the state to act upon, the court
didnít address the constitutional validity of a provision put forward by some
states which protects these cow vigilantes. This does have a negative effect in
preventing such illegal act of cow vigilantism. Also the missing of a clear
definition for lynching has to be seen as a short coming of this judgement.
The guidelines, preventive measures, remedial measures and punitive measures
which the court put forward will surely help in the prevention of cow
vigilantism. The meeting which include the Direct General of Police, Secretary
of Home Department of the State with nodal officers and state intelligence
officers at least once a quarter will also help in the prevention.
This judgement does cause a change in how the crime of cow vigilantism has been
ďIt may be true that the law cannot make the man love me, but it can keep him
from lynching me, and I think thatís pretty important.Ē Ė Martin Luther King
Cow vigilantism is against the rule of law. The judgement of the case of Tahseen
Poonawalla vs. Union of India has made quite a statement. It clearly declares
cow vigilantism to be against the law and put forward measures and guidelines to
prevent it. The Supreme Court of India stressed that it was the responsibility
of the state to prevent such acts. It also highlighted that such acts damages
the values held by the nation.
The constitution of the largest democratic nation in the world grants its
citizens certain rights. Right to life and liberty is an important one among
them. The act of cow vigilantism violates this right of the citizen. The
judgement by the Supreme Court in this case asks for the complete prevention of
such acts and demands total protection for the citizens of India. But it should
also be noted that there are certain omissions from the part of the court
regarding the constitutionality of the immunity provisions in the animal
protection acts of several states of India. This judgement does have a great
importance in the modern day India.
Written By: Abdul Noor - Government law college, Thrissur
Law Article in India
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