The families of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri in Uttar Pradesh and Pehlu Khan in Nuh in Haryana each lost a family member to cow vigilantism and now, after all the media attention has ebbed, justice seems elusive as the accused are out on bail and the threats remain. Aman Sharma visited the two families
Pehlu Khan was lynched to death for allegedly smuggling cows in April last year. A cow that his family owned before he was killed recently gave birth. Standing alongside the calf in Nuh, Haryana, Khan’s wife Jaibuna and son Irshad ask a simple question: “Our father has been labelled a cow smuggler… If we were smuggling one for slaughter, would we not first kill a cow we had from before, or this calf?”
About 100 km away, the family of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri, Uttar Pradesh, has endured a similar tragedy for a longer period. Both families are now caught in a legal tangle and there has been little help from the government after these muchreported cases disappeared from the headlines.
The two lynching incidents, one over suspected beef consumption after alleged cow slaughter in 2015, and the other over suspected cow smuggling for slaughter, dominated the headlines and highlighted the emergence of self-proclaimed gau rakshaks (cow protectors) as vigilantes who took the law in their own hands. No less than the Prime Minister had to rebuke such cow vigilantes.
Both the victims were labelled cow slaughterers, a taint that possibly will never be wiped out since they are not alive to defend themselves. Their families want the smear to go, but threats by the accused and the fear of cases being slapped against them hang over their heads like the Sword of Damocles.
All those accused in both cases are now out on bail and the trial in either of them hasn’t even started.
“Our case has been deliberately weakened. That is why all the accused have walked out on bail,” said Pehlu Khan’s sons Irshad and Arif, who were with their father when he was lynched for transporting cows in Rajasthan’s Behror on April 1 last year.
It’s intriguing that the six people identified by Khan in his dying statement have not been charge-sheeted by the police, while nine people who were charged were not named in the First Information Report (FIR). Seven of the nine are out on bail and two are untraceable.
“The trial is still to begin in the Behror district court. We wanted a fast-track trial but all seems in vain,” the family’s lawyer, Kashim Khan, told ET.
In Dadri, too, there is no sign of the trial in the Akhlaq case taking place.
“This was supposed to be a fasttrack court, which means dates every 8-10 days and a judgement in about a year. But two years after a chargesheet was filed, the charges are still to be framed,” said Yusuf Saifi, the Akhlaq family’s lawyer.
Danish Khan, Akhlaq’s son who survived the murderous assault, alleged a battery of defence lawyers submits one application after another to delay the trial. All 16 accused in the case are out on bail.
Jaan Mohammad, Akhlaq’s brother who lives in Dadri, said he is disheartened by the delay in the trial.
“Families of the accused had earlier approached us to withdraw the case or they said the rivalry will become even more intense. It seems those threats are ringing true,” he says.
Danish said they have even heard rumours that the new BJP government in Uttar Pradesh may withdraw this case or probe it afresh.
Pehlu Khan’s sons have faced threats, too, and don’t want to visit the Behror court in Rajasthan to follow up their case.
“The last time we went to Jaipur to Rajasthan High Court to watch the proceedings when the bail applications were filed by the accused, they openly threatened us. ‘Jab Behror aaoge, tab hum batayenge’ (Come to Behror and then we will tell you) – they warned us. It is their area and trial court is there,” said Irshad, who was roughed up along with Arif when Pehlu Khan was lynched.
Their mother Jaibuna wonders how people accused in a murder case can get bail so quickly. “Something is surely amiss,” she said.
Senior police officials who have handled both cases told ET on condition of anonymity that they had carried out the “best investigation” and it was up to the courts to grant bail or conduct the trial.
Both Khan and Akhlaq’s families, meanwhile, face a counter-case – cow smuggling against the former and cow slaughter against the latter.
“Over a year after our entire family was booked in the counter-case that also named our deceased father, no one has questioned us or taken our statement. There is no closure to the case either. The government has changed and we fear the worst, though clearly beef was planted near our house by the accused persons to cover up Akhlaq’s lynching,” Danish Khan said.
Pehlu’s family faced a cow-smuggling case lodged by the Rajasthan Police even though they have a receipt of a valid cow purchase. However, they were not named in a charge-sheet filed a couple of months ago by Rajasthan Police but their father was named as a cow-smuggler along with three other people – something that troubles the family.
“Even the police at the Behror police station had then advised us to come carefully if we come to Behror next – they said they may not be able to ensure our safety,” Pehlu’s sons said.
Neither the Haryana nor the Rajasthan governments helped Pehlu Khan’s family in any way. Irshad now works as a daily labourer in his village to feed his family – their dairy business wound up after his father’s death.
Akhlaq’s family was given a flat in Greater Noida and compensation by the previous Akhilesh Yadav government. A job was promised to Danish Khan once he recovered from his serious assault injuries.
“However, there is no word now on the job as the government has changed in Uttar Pradesh. I am jobless. A BJP minister recently had said the compensation and flat given to us by the Samajwadi Party government should also be taken back. For the record, we have never lived in that flat as we do not find it safe to live near Dadri anymore. My whole family still lives with our brother in Delhi in his small quarters. He is posted with the air force. Our doublestoreyed house in Bishada village lies locked and ruined ever since,” Danish said.
The families say they have another thing in common – respect for the cow, over which they lost their dear ones.
Jaibuna points to the cow, her calf and a buffalo in Khan’s house. Jaan Mohammad said Akhlaq’s family would never disrespect an animal held dear by the Hindus, let alone slaughter one. That, sadly, is yet another common thread in the tragedies that have disrupted their lives.