Pehlu Khan case: Shoddy probes will fail victims and even the best of laws

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Published: August 16, 2019 12:07:25 AM

The court said that those named by Khan in his dying declaration, a separate set of six, were not named in the complainants’ (Khan’s sons) statement to the police, as required under the Section 161 of the CrPC.

The court order, in fact, is an indictment of shoddy investigation in the case. (Representational image)The court order, in fact, is an indictment of shoddy investigation in the case. (Representational image)

Who failed Pehlu Khan? All six adults accused of lynching him have been acquitted by an Alwar court that gave them the “benefit of doubt”. In April 2017, the dairy-farmer from Nuh, Haryana, was assaulted by cow-vigilantes while he was making his way from a cattle fair; video footage of the incident went viral. The court didn’t admit the footage because it had not been forensically authenticated. Two years after the lynching, neither the Rajasthan police that separately investigated the lynching twice nor the prosecution that presented the video for inclusion as evidence had sought forensic verification.

The court order, in fact, is an indictment of shoddy investigation in the case. The court said that those named by Khan in his dying declaration, a separate set of six, were not named in the complainants’ (Khan’s sons) statement to the police, as required under the Section 161 of the CrPC. While the accused were identified and charged on the basis of the video that went viral, the state police had failed to seize the device on which the viral footage was made. Another witness, who had shot a separate video of the lynching, turned hostile. While the police recorded Khan’s statement at the hospital to which he was taken for treatment, no certificate was obtained from the doctors in charge to show that Khan was in a condition to give the statement. The investigating officer presented the recorded statement at the police station a good 16 hours later, a serious lapse. In September 2017, the state police gave a clean chit to the six named by Khan in his statement before his death on the basis of call records and statements from the employees of a cow shelter four kilometres from the crime spot; one of the six named by Khan is alleged to be the manager of the shelter. Also, while the Behror Community Health Centre’s post-mortem report suggests that the assault was the cause of death, the doctors at Kailash Hospital, where Khan was taken for treatment, told the police that the cause of death was heart attack. The Rajasthan police also registered charges of culpable homicide against the accused only after public outcry over the lynching. While the efficiency and the competence of the police can’t be commented upon, it seems hard to believe that the probe proceeded this way in its natural course, without any political pressure.

Meanwhile, of the seven FIRs registered in the case, six are under the Rajasthan cow-protection law, and Khan’s sons and others have been named for transporting cows illegally, despite submission of documents showing the transport was legal. One of those named by Khan was caught in a sting, admitting to having had seriously assaulted Khan over a period of one-and-a-half hours. The Congress government in Rajasthan, elected much after the lynching, has also passed a law against lynching. While it may seem that Pehlu Khan and the botched cow-lynching probe is a BJP problem given the BJP was in power in the state at the time, no manner of laws will help if investigations remain shoddy—recall the Aaarushi Talwar case—whether under political pressure or otherwise.

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