A year on, hopes of justice in Pehlu Khan lynching case fade

A year on, hopes of justice in Pehlu Khan lynching case fade

"One year has passed, but the memory of the fateful night my father was fatally assaulted in front of my eyes is a nightmare that I relive each day", says 25-year-old  Irshad Khan, son of Pehlu Khan, the dairy farmer who was attacked by an angry mob of cow vigilantes in Alwar's Nuh area on April 1, 2017.  Two days later,  he succumbed to  his injuries. Pehlu Khan was 55.

"On the 240-km road trip from our home in Jaisinghpur village to Jaipur, we were planning to buy a milch buffalo. My father was hoping to increase milk production during Ramzan. But we ended up buying a milch cow instead, as the seller extracted 12 litres of milk from it right in front of us. But who knew that my father would have to pay for this good deal with his life," Irshad, who was accompanying his father when the attack took place, told DH, his voice choking as tears welled up in his eyes.    

While the murder caught national attention and Khan became the face of protests against the spate of lynchings across the country in the name of gau raksha or cow protection, the family is still struggling to come to terms with their loss and live a normal life. But they won't be able to do so until they succed at two things. One, get Pehlu Khan's killers behind bars. Two, to free themselves of a charge sheet filed by Behror police accusing Irshad and his brother Aarif and their cousins Azmat and Rafeeq of smuggling cows.  But a year down the line, Pehlu Khan's family says it is losing sight of justice.

His widow Jebuna Begum, his 80-year-old blind mother Ankuri Begum, and his eight children, all have lost hope that Rajasthan police will help them secure justice. "I am an eyewitness, but I was never called by the police to identify the accused. Justice is possible only if the case is heard by the Supreme Court," Irshad said.

Their lawyer Qasim Khan agrees. "We are waiting for the Rajasthan Police CB-CID to present charges so that we can register our evidence and record statement of the witnesses, including his sons. Now, of the 13 accused, six have been given a clean chit and five are out on bail, granted by the high court and juvenile court. Two other accused are untraceable. If the men in the video didn't kill Pehlu, then who did?" Those absolved were the very ones Pehlu Khan had named in his dying declaration.

Worse, the police have managed to establish that  Pehlu  Khan  was a cattle smuggler, and so those who were travelling with him that day face the same charges.  In the charge sheet, the police claimed that on the basis of statements of witnesses, offences under Sections 5, 8, 9 of Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995, were made out against them.

But Pehlu Khan's family say they had valid documents to transport cows and also produced the purchase bill for the cow after the FIR was filed. "Police are trying to prove that Pehlu Khan is a smuggler while not clarifying who killed him," said Sher Mohammad, former head of Meo panchayat.

As a fallout, many from the Muslim community are apprehensive about rearing cattle in the Mewat belt. "Villagers in Jaisinghpur keep cows or buffaloes and many sell milk for a livelihood, but in this one year, most of them changed have given up rearing cattle, including Pehlu's family", Mohammad added.  

Will to Justice?

There was much condemnation of the murder, and many assurances of justice. Many openly criticised the ruling BJP after  Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria said in the immediate aftermath of Pehlu Khan's murder, that it was "alright" if some people caught those who were illegally transporting animals,  only perfunctorily adding that "no one has the right to take the law into their hands." Later, he said in public that no murder even took place.  

"For this, I hold the state's  BJP government responsible -- their disinterest in justice and their sympathy for the perpetrators was obvious from the start, when the police filed cases accusing Pehlu Khan of smuggling cattle, and the party leaders, too, blamed the victim. Nor is Pehlu Khan's case an exception -- in the 60 cases of cow vigilante violence between 2010 and 2017, in which 25 people were killed, most of the cases are nowhere near achieving justice," noted social activist Kavita Krishnan told DH.

Stating that an exception is the Alimuddin Ansari case in Jharkhand, where a fast-track court recently convicted 11 killers, Krishnan added "Why can't the model followed in the Alimuddin case be followed in all cases? The Alimuddin case shows that there is a way to justice as long as there is a will -- which means that in all other gau raksha violence cases, the police, investigators, prosecution and the ruling political forces, all have no will to seek justice. Instead, they patronise the gau goons for votes".   Criticising the state government, former Rajasthan chief minister and senior Congress leader Ashok Gehlot told DH, "The Vasundhara Raje government is a total failure. We demand a fair investigation, but they have miserably failed at bringing down hate crimes in Rajasthan."  

However, two visible efforts made by the BJP government are to appointment additional director general of police (crime) Pankaj Kumar Singh as the nodal officer to curb cow vigilantism and amending the state's Bovine Animals Act to allow for the seizure of vehicles in which cows are illegally transported. The amendment to the 1995 law will not apply to transportation of buffaloes.

In the last one year, Alwar district has been in the news for cow vigilante attacks. On  November 10, the body of 35-year-old Umar Mohammed was found on the railway tracks in Alwar's Ramgarh. In December, an alleged cow smuggler was killed in an exchange of fire with the police. In February, an alleged cow smuggler was mysteriously killed while he was being chased by police.  

The Delay in Pehlu Khan's case clearly shows not a lack of evidence, but a lack of the will to bring the killers to justice.

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