Pehlu Khan died of a heart attack.
Perhaps he had it coming with all that beef he ate. Had he not consumed the holy meat, the 55-year-old would have been much more equipped to take the beatings from the sticks and steel rods of the cow vigilantes in Rajasthan’s Alwar in April 2017. Beef causes cholesterol. Cholesterol causes heart attacks. And with the track record of cow-related lynchings, I am willing to believe that beef curses its consumer to death.
With the current atmosphere in India and the discourse on mob violence hitting rock bottom, dystopian thoughts plague my mind. How could a man who was murdered in broad daylight, the crime recorded and consumed by the public on social media, not receive justice?
Victims must be deserving of humiliation
I try to convince myself that Pehlu Khan was wrong. Pehlu deserved a humiliating death, just like Rakbar Khan, Mohammad Akhlaq and so many others, for not having a name that seemed unlikely to harm a cow. Although Pehlu Khan carried the documents to prove he had purchased the cows from a cattle-fair in Jaipur, I want to convince myself that he did not carry the right intentions. Who knows what he would have done to the cows? Carved them in the dead of night? Curried or barbecued them? And the so-called gau rakshaks, the cow protectors who always travel as a group, saw right through it. They are on a righteous mission, after all, guided by divine intentions.
How else can the gau rakshaks constantly be on the winning side? It’s the divine light shining upon them, saving them every time for doing the right thing by killing people who harmed the holy cow. Did you hear about the chants outside the courtroom when the six accused gau rakshaks were acquitted? “Bharat Mata Ki Jai!” Long live India and its justice system.
Pehlu Khan’s series of faults
But justice isn’t blind. Justice is simply stuck in paperwork. My sympathies lie with India’s justice system, not Pehlu Khan. What if he had staged his own murder? A grim wish of a psychopath!
But even if he didn’t, Pehlu Khan certainly left “room for doubt” by being an old, forgetful man. Didn’t the defence lawyer successfully argue that Pehlu Khan failed to name his attackers in his initial statement to the police. So what if he was in shock after a broken wrist and a few broken ribs that were filling his punctured lungs with water? Should that matter?
Pehlu Khan’s dying testimony, in which he did name his murderers, was not good enough either. Behror station house officer (SHO) Ramesh Sinsinwar had recorded his dying declaration without obtaining the doctor’s written consent that Pehlu Khan was fit to give his statement. Pehlu Khan’s failure to ensure the officer followed the procedure made his testimony useless in the court.
Even the video of his murder, with the perpetrators in plain sight, became inadmissible because Pehlu Khan couldn’t get it verified by the forensic science laboratory. This was the job of the investigating officers who somehow couldn’t get it done in two years. Am I surprised? No. It’s called procedure, which apparently rarely gets followed. Deal with it. Plus, who knows, maybe Pehlu Khan’s family had time to edit the video? That possibility can never be disregarded.
In fact, a part of me feels that Pehlu Khan didn’t even die the right way. He left the doctors confused. While his autopsy said he died of his injuries, one of the government doctors who tended to him said his death “was due to a cardiac arrest”. This doctor also believed that Khan’s injuries were a result of “the tussle with the cows” while loading them onto the truck. The conundrum!
What Pehlu Khans will never get
Perhaps, Pehlu Khan’s biggest sin was that he couldn’t make Indians sympathise with his situation. There was just something about him that couldn’t make even one of the 44 witnesses testify for him in court. The man who took his video, a constable of the Delhi police, turned hostile. A sting operation by NDTV news channel showing one of the accused boasting about leading the murderous mob was also not good enough. These journalists are the anti-national #NegativityGang. We mustn’t believe them.
Pehlu Khan’s was one of the first publicised lynchings that everyone saw. Exclusive footage for “primetime”. Everyone watched it in horror. Social paradigms shifted. We once tuned in to ‘Crime Patrol’ to watch justice being served. Now we see actual murders on primetime TV to see how the law is flouted. The sadist within us had been fed. Now it is being overfed. Lynchings are a dime a dozen nowadays. Did you watch Tabrez’s? It was brutal but he was out there to steal! The mob served justice. Quick and absolute.
Pehlu Khan’s politics
And then Pehlu Khan also let the issue of mob lynchings get politicised – only to the benefit of the politicians. Votes were asked in his name to end the hate; justice was never a part of this bargain. What’s most amusing is the anti-lynching law that the Congress-led government in Rajasthan has now introduced. The BJP vehemently opposed this law during the discussion in the state assembly. They said this law “appeased” the community. Some admission, at least. They realise this is about a particular community.
But in spite of this law, the six accused in Pehlu Khan’s murder have been acquitted. So, the question that begs to be asked is: What good is a law when investigations are done to obfuscate the truth? The truth is that cow fetches bigger political points than justice.
Forget Pehlu Khan, right?
Pehlu Khan’s fault was that he was in the wrong business. Dairy farming is not for Muslims. Anything to do with the holy cow should have nothing to do with Muslims. And to think he went to Jaipur to buy cattle so he could have surplus milk to sell during Ramadan was just so foolhardy of him. Why was he aiming for the stars? Ease of Doing Business does not translate to Ease of Doing Cow-related Business. So, while there could be one case against the accused who murdered Pehlu Khan, there would be six against him and his sons for alleged illegal transportation of bovine.
It is better that Pehlu Khan is not only forgotten but also turned into a fabricated story once told in India to rake up anti-national sentiments – that the justice system is lousy and our moral compass is broken.
The author is a political observer and writer. Views are personal.