Justice for the mob: On Pehlu Khan case verdict

It is a sign of the times that vigilante mobs can get away with daylight murder. Even after visual evidence becomes available; and even when the victim names his assailants in a dying declaration. The acquittal of all those charged by the Rajasthan police with beating dairy farmer Pehlu Khan to death in April 2017 is a stark reminder that there is a humongous gap between capturing video footage of a man being beaten up and bringing the culprits to book. The Additional District Judge of Alwar has given the benefit of doubt to the six men charged with Khan’s murder. A principal reason given is that the six persons named by Khan were not charge-sheeted by the police. It seems that the derailment of the prosecution case began early. Based on mobile phone call records and the statement of staff at a cow shelter, the police gave a clean sheet to the named suspects and booked a different set of people, including three minors. The police failed to conduct an identification parade, while there was an apparent contradiction between government doctors declaring that the victim died of injuries, and a private hospital’s claim that the cause was cardiac arrest. It is not difficult to surmise that infirmities were built into the case in advance. The court also need not have held inadmissible the footage of the incident, as the Supreme Court had ruled last year that authentic and relevant electronic evidence can be accepted even in the absence of the required certification under the Evidence Act.


Last year, Jharkhand managed to obtain convictions in two cases of lynching, but the Pehlu Khan lynching case had emblematic significance. It was vital that it was properly investigated and the culprits convicted. Unfortunately, the wholesale acquittal is a setback to combating the rampant vigilantism of our times. Each such incident imperils India’s image as a modern democracy. There is ample evidence to suggest that the institutional bias in favour of cow vigilantes is working against the interest of justice. The CID-Crime Branch took over the case two months after the incident, and filed a charge sheet. Those charge-sheeted were granted bail not long after. Even after the change of regime late last year, the police obtained permission to prosecute two sons of Pehlu Khan for transporting bovines in violation of a State law. This indicates the assiduity with which cattle protection laws are implemented, while lynch mobs in the garb of cow protectors are treated with kid gloves. The Rajasthan Chief Minister, who recently got a new expansive law enacted to punish lynching, has promised to take the matter on appeal. A mere appeal may not suffice; orders for a fresh investigation and trial — one that would lead to the formal indictment of all those responsible for the murderous attack — may be needed to restore a sense of justice.


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Printable version | Oct 3, 2022 9:33:50 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/justice-for-the-mob/article59779632.ece