Is this the promised ‘New India’?

Cantors seized by Nandigiri Dhamma police (DH photo)

The acquittal of all six persons accused of lynching Pehlu Khan, a cattle trader, in Rajasthan in April 2017 is an indictment of the investigation and prosecution processes and of the conduct of the government in power in the state when the incident took place. The entire system of justice loses credibility when its miscarriage is so clear and gross, and an open and shut case of murder is blatantly undermined. The judge of the Additional District Court of Alwar gave the benefit of doubt to the six accused but criticised the police and the prosecution for sloppy investigation and inefficient conduct of the case. The six persons who were arraigned were not those whom Pehlu Khan had named in his dying declaration and who could be identified in a video of the attack taken by onlookers. Instead, the police named six others, including three minors, as the accused.  

 It could only have been deliberate. The police let off the real killers and did not authenticate by forensic analysis the video in which they were seen. The court rejected the uncertified video as inadmissible evidence. There was no identification parade of the accused, and there were contradictory medical reports about the cause of death. There were other “serious shortcomings’’ and “gross neglect’’, as the court noted. The Vasundhara Raje government’s bias in the case was clear from the outset from its lukewarm response, and the police took its cue from the political authority. The case was not only derailed, but cases were also filed against the sons of Pehlu Khan for illegally transporting cattle. It amounted to harassing and further victimising the victims and even making them responsible for the crime.

Even the present Congress government in the state, which got a law against mob lynching passed this month, cannot be absolved of blame in this respect, because the sanction for prosecution of Pehlu Khan’s sons was given by it.  Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has ordered a probe into the deficiencies in the investigation and has said that the government would appeal the verdict. But it is doubtful if an appeal in the higher court would ensure justice. There is a case for a fresh investigation which would not suppress evidence. The Pehlu Khan case got identified with cow vigilantism, which became viral later. The failure of justice, in this case, would amount to encouraging the killers and their supporters and making the rule of law farcical. There is another lesson too: no law is good enough to punish the guilty if it is not enforced sincerely, and the worst threat to the due process of law comes from within.  

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