Pehlu Khan case verdict

Kashmir Times. Dated: 8/21/2019 12:34:55 PM

Acquittal of half a dozen accused in the case of Pehlu Khan exposes the pitfalls in the country's justice delivery system

It is unfortunate that under the prevailing circumstances, the vigilante mobs get away with daylight murder despite Supreme Court directions to district police officers to have special teams in place to check such incidents. In this particular case, even after visual evidence became available besides naming of the assailants in the dying declaration by the victim, the accused have been acquitted. 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 big gap between capturing video footage of a man being beaten up and bringing the culprits to book. There is definitely a gap and gaping holes in the justice delivery system in the Indian legal network. 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 state police. It seems that the derailment of the prosecution case began early and somewhere the ruling BJP-government at that time was colluding with the accused. Based on mobile phone call records and the statement of staff at a cow shelter, the police gave a clean sheet to the suspects identified by the victim 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. None in the investigating team could decipher the difference between the two medical reports. It is not difficult to surmise that infirmities were built into the case in advance by the investigating team, which prepared charge-sheet. 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. Some other specific directions of the SC have also not been adhered to by the court as well as investigating team.
But under similar circumstances last year, Jharkhand managed to get convictions in two cases of lynching, but the Pehlu Khan lynching case had emblematic significance. It was vital for the law enforcing agencies that the case was properly investigated and the culprits convicted. Unfortunately, the wholesale acquittal is a setback to combat the rampant vigilantism in present times. Each such incident tarnishes India's image as a modern and functional democracy. There is ample evidence to suggest that the institutional bias in favour of cow vigilantes is working against the interest of justice and justice delivery system. The CID-Crime Branch took over the case two months after the incident on the directions of the state government, and filed a charge-sheet. Those charge-sheeted were granted bail by the court without adhering to the stipulated period within which the charg-sheet was to be filed. 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 the existing 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 and ordered a fresh inquiry into the case by a special investigating team. This should be followed by a time-bound completion of the investigation and filing of a fresh charge-sheet against the accused besides challenging the trail court verdict in the higher court. Such a process may be needed to restore the confidence of the people in justice system of the country otherwise people may be forced to take law into their own hands after such incidents.



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