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How Pehlu Khan lynching case fell: family blames ‘poor’ probe

Charges against Pehlu’s sons helped arguments in court, says defence lawyer.

While Pehlu Khan’s son and the family’s lawyer blamed an ostensible failure in investigation — the probe was carried out under the previous BJP government of Vasundhara Raje — for Wednesday’s acquittal of all six accused of assaulting him on April 1, 2017, leading to his death two days later, the defence lawyer said charges filed against Khan’s two sons under Bovine Animal Act helped his argument in court that Khan, too, was a cattle smuggler.

Hukum Chand Sharma, lawyer for the six accused acquitted, pointed out that the chargesheet was filed against Khan’s sons in May this year – after the Congress government of Ashok Gehlot assumed office – under Sections 5, 8 and 9 of Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995.

“After the chargesheet was filed in May, I told the court that Khan’s sons have been charged by the police for cow smuggling. Had Khan not been dead, he, too, would have been charged,” Sharma maintained. “I told the court that this proves Khan was not a dairy farmer but a cattle smuggler.”

According to Sharma, contradictions between statement of the doctors at the private hospital, where Khan was admitted after the assault on April 1, 2017, and his postmortem report also helped the defence team’s arguments in court.

“Doctors at the hospital said that he (Khan) had an old heart ailment and died of a heart attack. (But) the postmortem report stated that he had broken ribs (ostensibly following the assault) and died due to his injuries. This contradiction helped bolster our argument,” says Sharma.

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But Khan’s son Irshad maintained that the case was weakened at the investigation stage itself. Alleging that the probe was not done in a fair way, Irshad told The Indian Express that they will appeal against the lower court’s verdict.

Leader of Opposition in Rajasthan Assembly Gulab Chand Kataria, who was the state Home Minister when the assault was reported, said: “Allegations that the investigation was not done neutrally are absolutely wrong. Would they (accused) have spent so much time in jail if the investigation had been not done neutrally? The police did a fair investigation and presented the chargesheet. The court order has to be respected by all.”

Advocate Qasim Khan, who has provided legal support to Khan’s family, however, pointed fingers at the probe. “The investigating officer of the case was changed thrice — first it was (probed by) the SHO of Behror police station; then the Circle Officer of Behror took over; and finally the CID-CB (CID Crime Branch). What was the need to change the investigating officer so many times in a murder case?”

He alleged that the probe was done in such a way “because of political interests”, and maintained that the two chargesheets filed in the case have “contradictions”.

Qasim Khan said the case was weakened after CID-CB gave a clean chit to the six people whom Khan had named as assailants before his death. “If the police absolve the six people who were actually named as his attackers by the deceased, then automatically the case…gets weakened,” the advocate said.

Defence lawyer Sharma said that no identification parade was done in jail to identify the accused and the video evidence — the video purportedly shot when Pehlu Khan was being assaulted — was not admissible in court since it could not be verified by the Forensic Science Lab.

Timeline: From attack to acquittal

April 1, 2017: Pehlu Khan, his sons and two companions attacked by a mob of cow vigilantes while transporting cattle in Behror, Alwar district.

April 2: Khan and his two sons booked under Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act, 1995, for illegally transporting cows out of state.

April 4: Khan succumbs to injuries. In his statement to police before death, Khan names six people as his assailants. Murder charge added in FIR against six people whom Khan named.

April 8: Case transferred to Circle Officer, Behror.

July 9: Case transferred to CID-CB.

September 2017: CID-CB closes case against all 6 named by Khan before his death. Nine others, including minors, chargesheeted in the case by then on the basis of video footage and other evidence.

May 2019: Chargesheet filed against Pehlu’s two sons in a case under in Bovine Animal Act.

July 2019: After reports that Khan’s sons have been chargesheeted, Rajasthan CM Ashok Gehlot says the state government would determine if investigation into the lynching case was carried out with “predetermined intentions”. Case to be re-investigated to find discrepancy, if any, he announced.

* Alwar Police submit application at a Behror court to “further investigate” the case, given nod.

August 7, 2019: Trial concludes in the case; prosecution presents 44 witnesses.

August 14: All six acquitted — court gives them benefit of doubt.

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