Who killed my father? asks Pehlu Khan’s son

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]FTER a local court in Rajasthan on Wednesday acquitted six out of the nine accused in Pehlu Khan lynching case, the victim’s son has only one question to ask: “Will someone tell me, who killed my father?”

The 55-year old dairy farmer was attacked by a group of cow vigilantes near Behror on the Jaipur-Delhi national highway on April 1, 2017. Khan succumbed to injuries two days later in a hospital. He was transporting cows to his hometown Nuh in Haryana after buying them at a cattle fair in Jaipur.

Twenty-eight-year old Irshad Khan, who was accompanying his father at the time of the incident, told The Leaflet: “The entire episode of lynching was video-graphed and everyone saw how people attacked my father. Police deliberately filed a weak chargesheet to shield the attackers. Now that court has acquitted six of the nine accused persons, will someone tell us who killed my father…who are the culprits?”

Of the total nine, three accused are minors and are being tried in a juvenile court.

Alleging that the police have sided with the accused, he complained: “We would tell police one thing and they would record something altogether different in our statements.”

“After getting a certified copy of the judgement, we will move High Court against these acquittals,” he said resolutely and slammed police for filing a chargesheet against him, his brother and late father in May this year under Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, after the Congress government assumed power in Rajasthan. “Believing that we are weak and poor, the police filed a false chargesheet against us to scare us into silence.”

“I told the court that Khan’s sons have been charged by the police for cow smuggling. Had Khan not been dead, he, too, would have been charged,” Hukum Chand Sharma, who represented the six accused has maintained, adding that the contradictions between statement of the doctors at the private hospital—where Khan was admitted after the assault and his postmortem report also helped the defence team’s arguments in the court.

Describing the allegations as “absolutely wrong”, leader of Opposition in Rajasthan Assembly Gulab Chand Kataria, who was the state Home Minister when the lynching case was reported, told the Indian Express, “Would they (accused) have spent so much time in jail if the investigation had been not done neutrally? The police did a fair investigation and presented the chargesheet. The court order has to be respected by all.”

However, the court judgement has evoked searing criticism over the “shoddy police investigation.”

Advocate Qasim Khan, who has provided legal support to Khan’s family said that the investigation changed hands thrice. “First it was probed by the SHO of Behror police station, then the Circle Officer of Behror took over and finally the CID-CB (CID Crime Branch),” he said, wondering, “why the investigating officers in the murder case were changed thrice?”

President Rajasthan chapter of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Kavita Srivastava told The Leaflet, “This judgement will only embolden those who take law in their hands, like the so called Gau Rakshaks, who will now carry out targeted attacks on Muslims with impunity.”

“This travesty of justice has to be reversed. We demand the prosecution immediately file an appeal in the Rajasthan High Court and the case be reinvestigated under the supervision of the court,” she said. “Rajasthan Police needs to be condemned for deliberately filing a weak chargesheet and cases of criminal negligence needs to be filed against the officials concerned.”

A statement issued by PUCL read, “the mobile video evidence which was the prime evidence in this matter, was not even sent to the Forensic Science Laboratory for investigation, the person who made the video was not even presented as a witness by the police and to top it all, the identification parade of the accused was not even undertaken by the police.”

Many social media users have also reacted to the judgment with shock and anger. “What a pity that no case can be filed against Pehlu Khan for lynching himself to death as he is no more! Congratulations to all those who were acquitted. The government should compensate them for the agony they suffered. Satyameva Jayate!” wrote AJ Philip on Facebook.

Noted film writer and poet Javed Akhtar termed the acquittals as “horrifying”. In a tweet, he said: “The court rejected the video because Rajasthan police had not verified it. Officers responsible should be sacked. The video should get verified n government of Raj should appeal in the higher court as soon as possible.”

Author and a journalist from Kashmir, Mirza Waheed posted: “Hundreds arrested in Kashmir without known charges. Those caught on camera killing a helpless man in Rajasthan acquitted. That should tell you everything about contemporary India.”