In April this year, video footage of a 55-year-old dairy owner being yanked by the neck, thrown to the ground and kicked by cow vigilantes in Rajasthan’s Alwar district had sparked nationwide outrage. There were bundles of condemnation for the attack, and assurances of justice.
Five months down the line, Pehlu Khan’s family says it is losing sight of justice. The case is falling apart.
In a secret report to the Vasundhara Raje government last month, the police said Pehlu Khan’s dying declaration was not based on facts.
And five of the seven people arrested by the police for thrashing Pehlu Khan have been released on bail by the high court that was reportedly not impressed with the evidence produced by the police. One of the five was Bipin Yadav, who was earlier compared to freedom fighter Bhagat Singh for his role in the incident by a prominent Gau Rakshak (cow protector) of the state.
Pehlu Khan’s son Irshad Khan, 24, believes the police had botched up the probe to protect the men, who he alleged belong to right-wing organisations affiliated to the BJP, Rajasthan’s ruling party.
Demanding on Friday that the case be transferred out of Rajasthan, Irshad Khan spoke about how they were kept in the dark about the investigation or the court proceedings. If everyone is innocent, who killed my father, he asked. His mother Jebuna told NDTV that she hadn’t lost hopes for justice and go right till the Supreme Court for it.
Alwar’s police chief Rahul Prakash suggests that it was unfair to criticise the police for the clean chit to the six suspects named by Pehlu Khan.
“They were not at the spot when the attack happened… They were at a cow shelter 4 kilometres away,” said Alwar police chief Rahul Prakash.
It does not appear to matter that the six had been on the run for months after Pehlu Khan’s death. Or that the police located them at the same cow shelter where, Phelu Khan’s cows seized by the vigilantes before he was killed had been sent.
Irshad Khan’s lawyer Amir Aziz says the CID-CB did not bother to interrogate the 6 people before giving them a clean chit. “Was it not suspicious that all six accused were found together in the cow shelter together, 4 km away,” he asked.
Rajasthan Home Minister Gulam Chand Kataria had gone on an overdrive right from the beginning to play down the case, insisting on describing the deadly assault as a case of “manhandling” because Pehlu Khan “died four days later in the hospital”.
The home minister, who was earlier also reported to have called the lynch mob Gau Bhakts (cow protectors), had later announced that Pehlu Khan’s weren’t the only ones who would have to face a police case.
The men who accompanied Pehlu Khan when he was intercepted by cow vigilantes for transporting cows would also be charged because, according to him, the cows were going to be slaughtered. That Pehlu Khan produced receipts to demonstrate that he had the paperwork to get the cows did not matter, the dairy owner’s son said.
According to an analysis by IndiaSpend, this was fast becoming a standard practice. In 46 per cent cases of 78 cow-related hate crimes between January and March this year, the police also registered cases against the victims.
At the rate the accused are getting off the hook, the only ones left facing the criminal case are Pehlu Khan’s family and associates who accompanied him on 1 April when he was attacked.