New Delhi: The judge who acquitted six suspects in the Pehlu Khan lynching case noted that the dairy farmer appeared to have died of excessive bleeding caused by a brutal assault, as stated in the autopsy.
However, she could not substantiate it further as the doctors who tended to Khan in his final hours testified that he died of a cardiac arrest, with one even suggesting that his injuries were caused while struggling to load cattle into a truck.
Two years after Khan, a dairy farmer from Nuh in Haryana, died in Alwar, Rajasthan, allegedly at the hands of self-styled gau-rakshaks, six suspects were acquitted Wednesday.
But the verdict is not so much an absolution of the men let off, as a scathing indictment of a shoddy investigation by Rajasthan Police, which failed to adhere to even basic due diligence.
For one, crucial footage of the assault on Khan, which had gone viral in the aftermath, could not be taken on the record because it was not subjected to verification. Second, the men apprehended were not the ones named by Khan, with additional district judge Sarita Swami noting that they were randomly picked from the crowd of onlookers at the site of the assault.
ThePrint dives into the 92-page verdict to bring you the highlights.
Who attacked Pehlu Khan?
Khan was allegedly attacked by a mob while transporting cattle in Alwar on 1 April 2017.
In the statement he gave police before his death, Khan named six of his attackers as Om Yadav, Hukumchand Yadav, Naveen Sharma, Sudhir Yadav, Rahul Saini and Janmal, who were claiming to be associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal, as noted by the court.
However, the ones being tried were Vipin Yadav, Ravindra Kumar, Kaluram, Dayanand, Yogesh alias Choliya, and Bheem Singh Rathi.
The latter six men had been arrested on the basis of a video that surfaced soon after the incident, which brings us to the court’s next objection.
Cloud of doubt over video and photo evidence
Referring to video footage of the assault, the court noted that one of the key pieces of evidence has collapsed solely because of the “gross carelessness” of investigators.
The defence easily brought the evidence under question by stating that photographs and footage of the incident were never substantiated under Section 65B of the Indian Evidence Act, which mandates that investigators also present the device used to record them and a certificate of authenticity from a forensic science laboratory.
The verdict states that Ravindra Kumar, who is believed to have shot the footage on a phone, was never proven to be the owner of the device. Police, the verdict states, had also not tried to establish if the SIM card in the phone had been purchased by Kumar.
The photographs, meanwhile, were not accompanied by details of who developed or clicked them, neither by signature nor an undertaking, as is the practice.
A man named Naval Kishore was produced as the photographer, but he testified that he did not remember clicking it. He said he may have developed the photo when police brought him the phone, but recanted later.
Because of this carelessness, the court could not use the photos and video as evidence.
Statement of Pehlu Khan rendered inadmissible
Another lapse by police, according to the court, rendered Khan’s statement inadmissible.
Khan’s statement was recorded by the Behror station house officer (SHO) Ramesh Sinsinawar five hours after the incident, while he was admitted in the ICU ward of Kailash Hospital.
“There was no certificate from any doctor attached with the statement which could prove that Khan was medically fit to give a statement,” the court stated. “This shows the gross carelessness by the police officer who took a statement in the ICU without medical permission and… directly asking the doctor for his consent signature on the statement.”
How did Pehlu Khan die?
Lynching deaths result from injuries inflicted by a murderous mob. However, several doctors presented by the prosecution as witnesses claimed that Khan did not succumb to injuries suffered in an attack, but due to a cardiac arrest.
The verdict notes doctors’ claim that Khan had been on a liquid diet while in hospital from 1 to 3 April. One of the doctors, an orthopaedic specialist, further said that Khan’s x-rays did not show any fractures.
Dr Ravikant Yadav of Kailash Hospital, as stated in the verdict, said some of Khan’s injuries were the result of a tussle with cows while loading them onto a pickup truck. He also testified that “Khan’s death was due to a cardiac arrest”. Another doctor said the injuries sustained by Khan were not fresh and at least three days old.
This was also the key argument offered by the defence counsel, who cited the doctors’ testimonies to claim Khan was suffering from a severe heart ailment.
The defence also presented the statement of the most senior doctor among these, who claimed Khan had told him that he visited Jaipur earlier that day to consult a heart specialist and that he was suffering from chronic asthma. According to the doctor, Khan had even mentioned having stents. The “injuries sustained by Khan were not sufficient to cause death”, the doctor then informed the court.
The judge noted that the “version of the doctors who conducted the postmortem should gain primacy over the doctors who only attended to the physical discomfort of Khan”. However, given the consensus among the latter, who comprised a bigger group, their testimony gained precedence.
Inconsistent estimate on number of attackers
The court noted that it was imperative for investigators to organise an identification parade in cases where the names offered by a victim don’t match those of apprehended suspects — this involves lining up the accused with a bunch of random strangers to see if victims can positively identify the suspects But no such step was taken in this case.
“Since the ones who are accused are not the ones who were named by either Khan or other eyewitnesses, immediate personal identification should have been done, but was not done. None of the eyewitnesses identified the accused by their face in court too,” the court stated.
The court also questioned why police did not investigate how Khan, a Mewati from Nuh in Haryana, identified the accused, who are from Behror, when they didn’t know each other.
The inconsistencies in eyewitness statements was stated as another ground for acquittal.
The court said it understood that identifying the accused could be difficult in a mob situation, but pointed out that Khan’s son Irshad’s estimate about the number of attackers had gone from five initially to nine or 10 now. This again was vastly different from the number given by Khan, around 200.
The verdict goes on to note that, after the assault took place, the prime eyewitnesses in the case, Irshad and three others, claimed that they did not know the names of the attackers.
“(Earlier) they could not remember the names, but surprisingly, after almost one and a half years, against the natural course, recollected all the names but failed to recognise them in person,” the judge said.