India Today - - INSIDE - By Ro­hit Par­i­har

In the Au­gust 14 ac­quit­tal of six men charged with the 2017 lynch­ing of Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer from Haryana, Al­war ad­di­tional dis­trict and ses­sions judge Sarita Swami con­demned the po­lice probe as shoddy. While the judge found that a foren­sic re­port had up­held the gen­uine­ness of the video of the attack on Khan, she said one of the in­ves­ti­gat­ing of­fi­cers claimed the video had never been sent for such a test. Rajasthan chief min­is­ter Ashok Gehlot, whose Congress govern­ment took over from the BJP in De­cem­ber 2018, has said a spe­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion team (SIT) will be formed to ex­am­ine

and cor­rect lapses. Khan’s son Ir­shad said his fam­ily was in shock but de­ter­mined to see the process through to a higher court. The Gehlot govern­ment has also in­di­cated its in­ten­tion to ap­peal against the judg­ment.

For any­one who has been fol­low­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, though, the court’s with­er­ing re­view of the po­lice ef­forts was not a sur­prise. From the start, the po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion has been sub­ject to the in­tense scru­tiny of po­lit­i­cal lob­bies, pres­sure groups and ac­tivists. Si­mul­ta­ne­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tions had been launched into Khan’s lynch­ing and the pos­si­ble smug­gling of cat­tle by him. Khan was stopped on the Jaipur-Delhi high­way near Behror in Rajasthan on April 1, 2017, and beaten by a mob that, he said, con­sisted of as many as 200 peo­ple. He was re­turn­ing to his home­town with cat­tle he claimed to have le­git­i­mately bought at a fair. Among the men al­legedly cap­tured on cam­era par­tic­i­pat­ing in the bru­tal beat­ing was Vipin Ya­dav, a 19-year-old ‘stu­dent leader’. Ya­dav was not named in the orig­i­nal first in­for­ma­tion re­port (FIR) in which Khan, ly­ing blood­ied and beaten in hos­pi­tal, named six of the mob. All of those six were cleared by the po­lice in Septem­ber 2017

be­cause cell­phone data ap­par­ently showed they were not at the scene.

Po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors told the me­dia it was a sur­prise Khan had named six peo­ple given that he was un­fa­mil­iar with the area and the mob. The court re­fused to frame charges against these six men, whom Khan’s sons and other wit­nesses did not name in their state­ments a day af­ter the mob attack. Po­lice filed charges against Khan him­self be­cause they could find no ev­i­dence that he had pur­chased the cat­tle found in his truck, though Khan’s sons claim the pa­pers val­i­dat­ing the pur­chase and trans­port had been de­stroyed by the vig­i­lantes.

Two days af­ter the beat­ing, Khan, still in hos­pi­tal, asked doc­tors if he could go home. They de­clined. Hours later, he died. The doc­tors say he’d had a heart attack and also that he vis­ited a heart spe­cial­ist in Jaipur on April 1, 2017. The au­topsy re­port, though, pinned the cause of death on in­ter­nal bleed­ing from bro­ken ribs; his lungs and chest mus­cles too were rup­tured.

Khan’s death be­came a na­tional scan­dal and the po­lice were un­der pres­sure to find the guilty. A po­lice of­fi­cer in­volved in the early in­ves­ti­ga­tions even sug­gested that “left-wing ac­tivists” had “tu­tored” Khan to name lo­cal gau rak­shaks thought to be close to the BJP and the RSS. There was also speculatio­n that a po­lice of­fi­cer added the six names to a blank pa­per signed by Khan. The court said the po­lice ap­peared to have made lit­tle ef­fort to find out how those names ap­peared in the FIR. In Oc­to­ber 2017, nine peo­ple, in­clud­ing Ya­dav and two mi­nors, were named in the fi­nal chargeshee­t. They were iden­ti­fied through cell­phone footage of the in­ci­dent.

The Al­war court judge said the footage was too grainy to prove ab­so­lutely that the men charged by the po­lice were those who beat up Khan. The judge also re­fused to ad­mit into ev­i­dence an un­der­cover video by a TV jour­nal­ist in which Ya­dav al­legedly boasts about his in­volve­ment in the lynch­ing. The mo­bile phone that sup­pos­edly recorded the video was not pro­duced be­fore the court and its al­leged owner was de­clared a hos­tile wit­ness. The court was scep­ti­cal about the pros­e­cu­tion’s pro­ce­dure, given that the new ac­cused were not put through an iden­tity pa­rade and that Ir­shad was un­able to iden­tify the men in court.

Two years on, Ir­shad told the court it had be­come dif­fi­cult to pick out spe­cific faces. The court re­jected the ex­pla­na­tion. Also, po­lice said there was no ev­i­dence that he and oth­ers had been fired at last Septem­ber while on their way to court. Some ob­servers ar­gue Khan’s case was not helped by ac­tivists who ap­peared more con­cerned with ide­o­log­i­cal grand­stand­ing than find­ing ev­i­dence. But most of the blame ap­pears to lie with the in­ves­tiga­tive au­thor­i­ties and the pros­e­cu­tors’ in­abil­ity to present the court with a persuasive case. Now, Khan’s fam­ily must rely on the SIT for some sem­blance of jus­tice. ■


IN WAIT­ING Pehlu Khan’s fam­ily at a sit-in protest in New Delhi in the days fol­low­ing his lynch­ing

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