Pehlu Khan attack: Justice seems like a long shot for his family

Nearly three months on, 8 of 15 suspected cow vigilantes who attacked the Haryana dairy farmer are still to be arrested. But Rajasthan police say the probe is on track and justice will be done. 

RUHI TEWARI in Behror, Alwar, Nuh

It is nearly three months since dairy farmer Pehlu Khan was killed in an attack by suspected cow vigilantes on National Highway 8 in Rajasthan’s Alwar district while transporting cattle he had bought in Jaipur. The brutal violence made national headlines and sparked outrage for a few days and then the next instance of vigilante violence took over. But nothing much has changed since at the humble house of Khan, off a pot-holed dirt track in Jaisinghpur village in Haryana’s Nuh. The family is still struggling to recover from the horror of 1 April and has just one demand – justice.

“It is more than two months and they haven’t even arrested all the accused,” said Irshad Khan, Pehlu’s oldest son. “We haven’t received any compensation and forget about someone senior in the government, even a local constable from the nearby chowki hasn’t visited us. There is no justice.”

Irshad and his brother Arif were with their 55-year-old father on that fateful day when suspected cow vigilantes stopped their vehicle transporting cattle in Behror and thrashed them mercilessly.

While Irshad and Arif survived, Pehlu died two days later in a private hospital in Behror. Pehlu’s family claims not enough has been done to arrest those named in the FIR, and even hint at the complicity of the police and administration in protecting the accused. Of the 15 people named in the FIR, five are under arrest, two have been detained since they are minors, and the rest are “absconding”. Irshad, however, claims that the six men directly responsible for the lynching are not among those arrested.

“We feel the administration is also deliberately not doing enough to arrest the other accused,” said Irshad. “They have been named in the FIR, there are video clips doing the rounds where everyone can clearly see their faces, there have been rewards declared for whoever finds them, then why has the police not been able to do anything so far?”

The police came to their rescue only 35-40 minutes after the violence began but was prompt in shifting them to a hospital, he added.

Rahul Prakash, Superintendent of Police, Alwar district, defends the role of his force and said they “responded very well”. He is also confident that the family will “100 per cent get justice”.

“The file is not with me anymore, it has been transferred to ASP, Kotputli. There have been arrests made and further investigation is on,” Prakash told ThePrint. “There is a video recording in this case and what can be a bigger proof than that? So we acted and identified the 15 accused.  Police responded very well. It also reached the spot within 7-10 minutes and took the injured to the hospital.”

Dig a little deeper and the case takes on a complex hue as the politics of cow vigilantism seeks to overshadow what seems to be a brazen crime. Pehlu’s family insists the cattle they were transporting had been bought and were being transported legally for dairy farming. But Prakash alleges the cattle were being “smuggled” as they were being from one state to another without the necessary permit and Irshad and Arif have been booked for the same.

Pehlu’s family, however, claims ignorance and says the government-recognised cattle fair from where they bought the cows should have given them the necessary permit since they had been told of the destination of the cows. “Even if I agree to their smuggling allegation for a moment, does it mean they can just beat us to death? Is that the cost of our lives?” asked Irshad, adding that no one at the cattle fair in Jaipur told them about the need for a permit.

There are also questions about why Pehlu, who was badly injured, was taken to a private hospital and not a more experienced government hospital in Jaipur. Prakash claims the doctors did not suggest referring the case to a government hospital while Irshad says they were not allowed to meet their father at all and so had no idea about his condition.

Meanwhile in Behror, there is a shroud of silence around the attack on the Khans. The spot where they were attacked is just a few kilometres from the busy markets of the town but no one there is willing to discuss the incident. One reason is the delicate religious angle to it.

As Irshad and Arif put it, they “paid a price” for their name. “This happened because we are Muslim. Our name went against us. If we were Hindus, this would never have happened. We had a Hindu driver with us and he was let off,” Arif said, adding they breed their cattle and treat it with respect.

This, however, is not the view of the administration.

“How will you prove what they were taking these cows for? How do you know it was only for rearing? What is the guarantee? You never know if the cows they keep at home are killed one day for eating if there is a feast or something,” Prakash said.

This perception of mistrust has always loomed large, but with Pehlu’s lynching, the fear among Muslim cattle farmers has become deeply entrenched, even more than the unhappiness over the pace of police investigation into the killing.

“This is not the first time that such an incident happened in Mewat. Cows bought by Muslim cattle farmers are often taken away by vigilante groups in connivance with local authorities, and they are beaten up,” said Noor Mohammad, Alwar-based activist and director, Mewat Siksha Panchayat.

“However, this time the fact that Pehlu died, videos were shot and the media highlighted it, this issue became big. The idea is to cause economic loss to the Meo (Mewati) Muslim community, which is anyway not well off and to create an atmosphere of terror for them. After the 1 April incident, the fear has compounded and Muslims are now scared to continue with cattle farming.”

This insecurity is most defined in Pehlu’s Jaisinghpur village. The few families that were into cattle farming say they have given it up out of fear.

“We are very scared now. Nothing is worth risking our lives for,” said Ashu Mohammad. “We have children to raise, families to take care of. I used to be a cattle farmer but have now given it up. Now I do some farming, some labour etc. If something happens to us, we can’t even hope for justice, like we have seen in this case.”

(With inputs from Shivangi Walia)

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