Tale of two murders in Alwar and Raje’s poll prospects

In the case of Akbar Khan (alias Rakbar, because his Aadhaar card wrongly recorded his name), who was lynched by cow vigilantes on July 21 in Lalvandi village in Alwar, the police is on its toes.

The two victims of lynching in Alwar, Rajasthan — Pehlu Khan (55) last year and Akbar Khan (31) last week, were both dairy farmers, and were lynched by ‘gau rakshaks’ on suspicion that they were cow smugglers. But the same Rajasthan government of Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, under whose watch both incidents of cow-related terrorism have occurred, is handling the two cases very differently.  

In the case of Akbar Khan (alias Rakbar, because his Aadhaar card wrongly recorded his name), who was lynched by cow vigilantes on July 21 in Lalvandi village in Alwar, the police is on its toes. Ramgarh Police, which has so far arrested three suspects, has itself been caught on the wrong foot for having callously delayed taking the injured Khan to hospital by three hours. An assistant sub-inspector has been suspended and three constables of Ramgarh police station were sent to the police lines. But, in the similar case of the lynching of Pehlu Khan by cow vigilantes in Alwar’s Nuh area on April 1, 2017, Rajasthan Police’s CB-CID gave clean chit to six accused, whom Pehlu Khan had identified as his killers in his dying declaration. Police did not even record Pehlu Khan’s son Irshad’s eyewitness account. 

In the Akbar Khan case, though, as pieces of evidences unfolded, within three days, Rajasthan Home Minister Gulab Chand Kataria accepted that Akbar had died in police custody. He inspected the spot where the so-called gau rakshaks had lynched him, met the victim’s family and promised a fair probe and a compensation of Rs 1.25 lakh. In contrast, in Pehlu’s case, justice is nowhere in sight. No minister ever visited the spot where he was killed, nor his family. 

Moreover, Kataria, who has been forthcoming on Akbar’s death, had sounded least bothered over Pehlu Khan’s murder. In fact, he was caught on camera saying that no murder had taken place and indeed that it was “alright” if some people caught those who were “illegally transporting animals”.

In Akbar’s case, four enquiries have been set up in four days. Cognisance was taken on the reports about the delayed response by police and the case was shifted out of Alwar. Vandana Bhatti, Additional SP Crime and Vigilance, Jaipur range, was made the investigation officer. A day later, Rajasthan Police formed a high-level team of four senior officers, led by special DG (law & order) NRK Reddy, to probe the case. Kataria has also ordered a magisterial enquiry. 

Surprisingly, no high-level committee was formed by Rajasthan Police in Pehlu Khan’s case. The investigation was initially done by a circle officer in Alwar. Despite having video footage of Pehlu’s lynching, out of the 13 accused, six have been given a clean chit and five are out on bail, granted by the high court and the juvenile court. Two other accused are untraceable. 

The reason is evident why the Raje government did not care about Pehlu Khan’s murder but has taken such swift action in Akbar’s case: political compulsion and nationwide outrage, including pressure from the Supreme Court and the opposition, as state assembly elections approach.

Firstly, taking lessons from the by-poll results in which the BJP lost the Alwar Lok Sabha seat because of the poor law and order record and rise in the hate crimes, Raje wants to take no chance when assembly polls are just months away. Especially after she has been announced as the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate by party chief Amit shah, who was in Jaipur for a party meeting when the news of Akbar’s lynching broke. Unlike in Pehlu’s case, when she preferred not to speak for 40 days, she condemned Akbar’s murder within hours, tweeting “The incident of alleged lynching of a person transporting bovines in Alwar district is condemnable. Strictest possible action shall be taken against the perpetrators.”

Secondly, the attack was condemned widely and caused outrage on social media, with Raje’s Rajasthan being hash-tagged #lynchistan. The opposition accused the ruling BJP of supporting vigilantism. Former Rajasthan chief minister and Congress general secretary Ashok Gehlot told DH, “The BJP’s gameplan has been exposed many times in the past four years; vigilantes evade arrest, evidence is diluted, BJP leaders support and garland them.” 

Govt trying to protect VHP mob

Amidst the changing narrative surrounding the murder of Akbar Khan, however, activists and family members believe a deliberate attempt is being made to shift the entire blame onto the police and letting the VHP lynch mob escape. In a written statement to Ramgarh Police, Aslam Khan, who was accompanying Akbar Khan and is an eyewitness, said that he had heard people in the mob saying, “You can’t do anything to us, we are the MLA’s men”. The three men booked in Akbar’s case are affiliated with Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). The VHP has threatened to call a ‘Rajasthan bandh’ if the accused are not released.

Noted social activist Kavita Krishnan told DH, “The responsibility of the mob as well as of the police in the murder of Akbar Khan must be fixed. By saying it was a custodial killing alone, the Rajasthan government is trying to protect the VHP mob that attacked Akbar in the first place. The Supreme Court’s observations and the heat from the opposition is what is putting pressure on the Rajasthan government to treat Akbar’s case with far more seriousness than they did Pehlu’s lynching”. 

Senior advocate and activist Prashant Bhushan told DH, “Akbar’s death is a culpable homicide in which both the VHP mob and Rajasthan Police must be booked. To ensure fair trial, this case should be shifted to the CBI or any outside agency. It is evident from repeated lynching attacks that mobs have protection from the state government. Our prime minister chooses to remain silent on the lynchings, but these mobs are well protected.”  

A contempt petition has been filed in the Supreme Court against the Rajasthan government for its failure to check lynchings. It will be heard on August 28. 

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Tale of two murders in Alwar and Raje’s poll prospects

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