Pehlu attackers walk free, court finds glaring gaps in probe

Deep Mukherjee
The family of dairy farmer Pehlu Khan, who was lynched by alleged gau rakshaks in Alwar. (Express Archive/Amit Mehra)

More than two years after Pehlu Khan was killed by a mob that accused him of smuggling cows, an Alwar court Wednesday acquitted all six men accused in the lynching. Giving all the accused the benefit of the doubt, the court observed that the Rajasthan Police probe had serious shortcomings and signified gross negligence .

Khan (55), his two sons and others were stopped and assaulted by a mob of cow vigilantes near Behror in Alwar district on April 1, 2017. Khan died in hospital on April 3. Additional Chief Secretary, Home, Rajeeva Swaroop said that the government has decided to immediately appeal against the verdict.

In ordering the acquittal, the court of Additional District Judge Sarita Swami noted several discrepancies during the investigation to conclude that the accused should be given the benefit of the doubt.

Pehlu Khan lynching case verdict Highlight

The points the court cited include the accused not being named in Khan s statement to the police, the police not confiscating the mobile phone used to

record the video of the lynching, which was also the basis of the chargesheet, and presenting the video to the court.

Explained | How Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh propose to check lynching

The video, on the basis of which the accused were charged in this case, the mobile through which this video was shot, not finding and confiscating it also signifies gross negligence of the investigating officer, stated the verdict.

The court also noted that in a case when instead of the named accused, other people were made accused, who are also not named under 164 CrPC, the accused need to be identified but in the investigation the identification of the accused was not done.

In this way, during the investigation, serious shortcomings were left, which brings the prosecution s case in the ambit of suspicion and the accused stand to benefit from that suspicion, stated the judgment.

The six men acquitted are Vipin Yadav, Ravindra Kumar, Kaluram, Dayanand, Yogesh Kumar alias Dholia, and Bhim Rathi, and three other accused, who were minors at the time of the crime, are on trial at a juvenile court.

Apart from the juveniles, police, on the basis of video footage and other evidence, had arrested six men charging them under sections 147, 323, 341, 302, 308, 379 and 427 of the IPC, public prosecutor Khatana told The Indian Express. He said that the prosecution presented 44 witnesses in the case during the trial which concluded on August 7.

Following the verdict, Khan s eldest son, Irshad broke down while speaking to The Indian Express. We had thought that they will be definitely convicted. We are not getting the justice we had hoped for. Even if I have to sell our house, I will see this to the end. We will appeal to the High Court and then if necessary, the Supreme Court. The whole country had seen these people assaulting my father in that video. What more evidence can there be? said Irshad.

Incidentally, in 2017, the Rajasthan Police, under the previous BJP government, had given a clean chit to six people Khan had named as his assailants in his statement before dying. The clean chit had resulted in widespread criticism for the then BJP government in Rajasthan.

BJP Leader of the Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria said: The allegations that the investigation was not done neutrally is absolutely wrong. The police had made those people accused and presented chargesheet against them in the court. Had the investigation been not done neutrally, would the accused spend so much time in jail? The police did a fair investigation and chargesheet was presented. The court order has to be respected by all. Kataria was the state home minister when Khan was lynched.

Hukum Chand Sharma, lawyer for the defence, said it was a historic judgment . The court has given benefit of doubt to the accused and after reading the full judgment we will able to say that on what other bases the court acquitted them. The police had implicated innocent people in the case to save themselves, he said.

The case was initially on trial in Behror but was transferred to Alwar after witnesses in the case -Azmat (28) and Rafiq (25) and Pehlu Khan s two sons Irshad (28) and Arif (21) – alleged in September last year that they were fired upon while they were going for a hearing.

In a May 2019 chargesheet, after the Congress assumed power in Rajasthan, police charged Khan s sons and Khan Mohammed, the owner of the pickup truck carrying cattle on April 1, 2017, under sections of the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act.

Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot then had said the Congress government would determine if the investigation into the lynching was carried out with predetermined intentions . The case will be re-investigated if any discrepancy is found, he had said. Following that, the Alwar police had submitted an application at a court in Behror to further investigate the case, which was later granted by the court.

Timeline of Pehlu Khan lynching case

April 1, 2017- Pehlu Khan, his sons and two companions attacked by a mob of cow vigilantes while transporting cattle in Behror, Alwar district.

April 3, 2017- Khan succumbs to his injuries. In his statement to police before his death, Khan names six people as his assailants.

June 2017- Case transferred to CID-CB.

September 2017- CID-CB gives clean chit to all 6 men named by Khan before his death. Chargesheet names 9 others including 2 minors.

August 7, 2019- Trial concludes in the case with the prosecution presenting a total of 44 witnesses.

August 14- All six accused acquited.