Two years after Haryana dairy farmer Pehlu Khan was allegedly lynched by a mob of cow vigilantes on the Jaipur-Delhi National Highway, a sessions court in Alwar on Wednesday acquitted all six persons accused of beating him to death, while giving them the benefit of the doubt. The April 1, 2017, incident, caught on camera, had sparked nationwide outrage.
Additional district & sessions judge Sarita Swami pronounced the judgment in a packed courtroom in the presence of the accused, who were earlier released on bail at various stages during the trial. Three other accused, who are minors, are facing proceedings as children in conflict with law in Alwar’s Juvenile Justice Board.
The trial had concluded on August 7 after the completion of arguments of prosecution and defence. Forty-four witnesses, including Khan’s two sons Irshad and Aarif, had deposed in the case, registered under Sections 302 (murder), 147 (rioting) and 341 (wrongful restraint) of the Indian Penal Code. The chargesheet was submitted in a court in Behror, but the trial was later shifted to Alwar.
Khan, 55, and his sons were transporting cows, after purchasing them in a cattle fair in Jaipur, to their hometown Nuh in Haryana, when they were waylaid near Behror by the self-styled cow vigilantes and beaten up on the accusation of smuggling cattle. Khan died of his injuries in a hospital after two days.
State to file appeal
Additional Public Prosecutor Yogendra Khatana told The Hindu that the State government would file an appeal in the Rajasthan High Court after studying the judgment.
Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot also tweeted, “Our State Government has enacted law against mob lynching in first week of August 2019. We are committed to ensuring justice for family of late Sh Pehlu Khan. State Government will file appeal against order of ADJ.”
While giving the benefit of the doubt to the accused, the court noted “contradictions” in the investigation carried out by the police and the prosecution’s evidence.
The court ruled that the video footage of the incident that went viral on the social media could not be treated as admissible evidence in the absence of its certification by the forensic science laboratory. Besides, Khan’s sons reportedly could not identify the accused and the prosecution could not prove that they were the ones visible in the video.
Those let off by the court were Vipin Yadav, Kalu Ram, Dayanand, Ravindra Kumar, Yogesh Kumar and Bheem Rathi. A crowd which had gathered outside the court celebrated the verdict.
Defence counsel Hukum Chand Sharma said the judgment was a “tight slap” in the face of those who were trying to give a political twist to the case.
Qasim Khan, counsel for Pehlu Khan’s sons, said the two chargesheets filed by the State police and the CID-CB contradicted each other, which benefited the accused. “We suspect that the police had left several loopholes in their probe under pressure from the previous BJP government in Rajasthan. No identification parade of the accused was conducted,” Mr. Khan said.
The court also found contradictions in the cause of death, as due to heart attack and injuries inflicted during the attack. The man who recorded the video on his mobile phone did not testify, which created doubts about the identity of the accused.
In 2017, the CID-CB had given a clean chit to six persons who were named as accused in the case on the basis of Khan's statement before his death. The investigating agency had found after examining the mobile phone records and the statement of a cow shelter caretaker that they were not present on the spot. The six accused acquitted on Wednesday were arraigned afterwards.
After registering the murder case, the police had also lodged the cases with the cow smuggling charges against Khan, his sons and other companions. The Congress government faced criticism recently after a charge-sheet, filed against Irshad, Aarif and a truck operator Khan Mohammed, also named Khan as an accused even after his death.
The judgment has come barely nine days after the State Assembly passed a Bill against mob lynching on August 5, making Rajasthan the second State after Manipur to have a dedicated legislation that criminalises lynching as a special offence. After Khan's alleged murder, the State has witnessed several incidents of similar nature. The Bill has made lynching punishable with life sentence and a fine up to Rs.5 lakh.