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Tehseen S. Poonawalla vs. Union of India and others


It may be true that the law cannot make the man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important - Martin Luther King Jr.

The slogan of the world's biggest democratic republic is "unity in diversity." India's constitution encourages its citizens to take this path. As enshrined in Part III of India's constitution, fundamental rights safeguard people's rights. It gives Indian people the privilege to enjoy particular rights, and this is the govt's responsibility to defend these privileges. In addition, India's government ought to be able to defend the country's minorities from the majority's criminal actions.

Laws are necessary for democracy to work properly. Laws are passed in order to curb violence. The citizens are expected to maintain these laws. No one is exempt from the law. However, in order for individuals to properly obey the law, lawbreakers must be reprimanded. It is critical to understand that this penalty must be carried out solely by the administration. Nobody else, including private individuals, political parties, other than the administration has the authority to provide it. The individual who broke the law shall indeed be given a fair trial and the appropriate penalty should be imposed.

There has been a rise in mob assaults in the past few years towards individuals on the pretext that they are involved in cattle trafficking. There have been several cases of violence in the name of cow protection which is also known as cow vigilante violence. In India, some individuals have taken the law into their own hands and lynched people under the guise of cow protection, accusing them of slaughtering cows. Extrajudicial killings by mobs mostly target the minority group, heightening their sense of vulnerability. The prevalence of extrajudicial killings calls into doubt the state's sovereignty, administration and has a detrimental influence on the legal system.

In this iconic matter of Tehseen Poonawalla vs. Union of India and others, a panel headed by erstwhile CJI Deepak Mishra included A.M. Khanwilkar and Dr. D.Y. Chandrachud, JJ, handed down a ruling in order to address the country's current condition. This decision harshly denounced mob lynchings and resulted in a significant difference in how the crime was treated prior to the decision.


Three individuals, Martin Macvan, a Dalit rights activist, Mohanbhai Hamir Bhai Bedva, a presumed perpetrator of such crime, and Tehseen Poonawalla, an activist lawyer, submitted a writ petition before the Supreme Court of India in August 2016 to consider taking action against such mobs as well as provide redress to the affected people of these mob lynching tragedies. The applicants sought the Supreme Court to send a letter to the central and state administrations, seeking them to take immediate action regarding vigilante groups. Petitioner drew the attention of the court by mentioning recent incidences of violence in the name of cow protection.

The petition opposed the sections of cow protection statutes of six states — Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Jharkhand, and Karnataka – that safeguard cow vigilantes. They are especially critical of rules that restrict legal proceedings towards anyone who operates in "good faith" within the law.

For instance, no action, imprisonment, or even other legal procedures will be taken towards any individual for something committed in good conscience or meant to be performed within this Act, according to section 13 of the Maharashtra Animal Preservation Act, 1976. These governments' actions enabled the cow vigilantes to shelter behind them. These laws served as justifications for their lynching. As a result, the petitioners have approached the Indian Supreme Court to have these acts revoked.

Indira Jaising, Kapil Sibal, Colin Gonsalves, and Sanjay Hegde served the petitioners, while Tushar Mehta, Ranjit Kumar, Hemantika Wahi, and Shreyas Jain defended the defendants.


The court noted the case Wilson v. Garcia to observe that everyone is equal in the eyes of law and that no one can punish wrongdoers except the administration.

It is the government's responsibility to defend its citizens. Communal bloodshed in the guise of cattle protection could not be tolerated by the state. The was held by the court in Mohd. Haroon and others v. Union of India and others that it is indeed the government administration's obligation to avoid sectarian violence.

The court was aware of the circumstances and issued rules to avoid vigilantism against individuals. The petitioner's contention that the cow vigilantes should be penalized was accepted by the court, and disciplinary procedures were enacted to that end. Reparative actions were proposed to make reparations to people who had been harmed by such crimes. In addition to the precautionary action, the court recommended forming a special task force to give intel reports on persons who seem to perpetrate similar crimes. The judge ordered the state's Director-General of Police and Secretary of the Home Department to have a session with relevant officers and state patrol intelligence agents every quarter to discuss cow vigilantism.

Even though the court declared cow vigilantism to be illegal and emphasized the importance of putting an end to it by enacting a number of principles, punishments, remedial action, and precautionary measures, it did not acknowledge the constitutionality of protections for cow vigilantes included in many state laws. As a result, while this judgement is nearly correct, it cannot be described as flawless.

The notion of unity in variety was highlighted by the court. The court cited various examples wherein the country's unity in diversity mindset was emphasized. The court held that these instances of cow vigilantism could not be tolerated in a country like India, where harmony is prized highly. In no way can lynchings in the guise of cow safety be acceptable.

Probably one of the hardest things a democratic society can experience is its cohesiveness being harmed in the guise of cow protection. The court further made an important remark by emphasizing that in India, the right to life and liberty is regarded vital and such act cannot be permitted to infringe on it.


The decision in the matter of Tahseen Poonawalla vs. Union of India was significant. It clearly states that cow vigilantism is illegal and proposes actions and instructions to eliminate it. The Supreme Court emphasized that it would be the state's obligation to prohibit such atrocities. It further stated that any such behaviors are detrimental to the nation's ideals.

The constitution of the world's greatest democratic country guarantees some privileges to its inhabitants. One of the most crucial is the right to life and personal liberty. The action of cow vigilantism infringes on this freedom.

The Supreme Court's decision in this matter calls for the complete prohibition of such activities and comprehensive protection for Indian nationals. However, it should be highlighted that the court fails to determine the validity of indemnity clauses in numerous Indian state animal protection legislation. However, this decision is extremely significant in contemporary India.

This article is written by Pratham Bagani of Fergusson College.

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1989 AIR 2039, 1989 SCR (3) 997 BENCH: MISRA RANGNATH OZA, G.L. (J) PETITIONER: Parmanand Katara, Human Rights Activist RESPONDENT: Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Indian Medical Council, India


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