Relief for Pehlu’s sons

The finding that they weren’t smuggling cows exposes the perversity of blaming the victims The Rajasthan High Court’s order quashing the cow smuggling case against the sons of Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer lynched by cow vigilantes in 2017, grants much-needed relief to the family. The Khans are yet to get any semblance of justice for Pehlu Khan’s murder, as all those sent up for trial were acquitted in August. Of particular significance is Justice Pankaj Bhandari’s finding that Khan and his sons, Irshad and Arif, besides truck driver Khan Mohammed, were not transporting cattle for slaughter; rather, the cows and calves in their possession were meant for dairy farming. Although High Courts do not normally intervene after the filing of the charge sheet, they have the power to do so if there is manifest abuse of the process. In this case, the police appear to have tried to show that milch cows and calves were animals meant for slaughter. It is quite apparent that they were trying perversely to build a narrative that it was the victims who were primarily at fault. Pehlu Khan and his sons had bought the animals at a cattle fair in Jaipur and were taking them to Nuh in Haryana, when they were attacked by a mob on April 1, 2017. Khan succumbed to his injuries in hospital two days later. Though it was under the erstwhile BJP government that a case was registered against Pehlu Khan and others under the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, the charge sheet was filed by the police only in May this year, after a change of regime. The development caused some embarrassment to the Congress regime of Ashok Gehlot, but the government subsequently made up for it by enacting an anti-lynching law. Further, soon after the six suspects in the murder case were acquitted, the government set up a committee to probe the lapses in the investigation. It also filed an appeal in the High Court against their acquittal. The invalidation of the cow smuggling case is a face-saver for the present regime too. The Pehlu Khan murder case attained emblematic significance not only because it was one of the earliest instances of the wave of vigilante attacks across the country in the name of cow protection; it was also because it contained all the ingredients of a hate crime: unplanned violence, ideological motivation, intolerance towards sections of society and interference with dietary choice. The manner in which the murder case was allowed to collapse in court, possibly due to planned lapses, shows how the system was rigged to favour the mob. What is now left for the State government is to make a sincere effort to salvage the murder case. If there is sufficient evidence that the real perpetrators were dropped from the case deliberately, it should try to get a fresh trial ordered against those responsible and secure appropriate punishment for them.

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