'Pehlu Khan was killed twice – first by the BJP government and secondly by Congress government', read a headline. The dairy farmer from Alwar, Rajasthan was lynched to death on 1 April 2017 by cow vigilantes.
Pehlu Khan and his sons were on their way back to their native town in Haryana, after buying cows in compliance with law and with documents that could prove it. But the cow vigilantes intercepted them on the allegation that he was smuggling cows for butchering and tortured him, injuring his children also in the process. It was after the Congress government took office, following the BJP defeat in elections, that an FIR was prepared against Pehlu Khan and others on 30 December 2018 for smugglilng cows. The court registered the case in May this year, in which Pehlu Khan's name was also there. However chief minister Ashok Gehlot explains that his name was removed from the list of accused after his death. Authorities also claim that cases were charged only against the other three. The chief minister assures that the case was registered during the BJP regime, and that if there are any irregularities, there will be a re-probe.
What we see in the middle of these happenings is an alarming picture of law moving in one direction while justice moves in another. The chief plank of the Alwar murder is that a mob violated law openly and lynched a man. It is another matter - and a relatively minor one - whether the victim and those with him were cow-smugglers or not. Pehlu Khan's family has submitted to the court the documents proving the purchase of cows. Now even if it turns out that they had breached law, no individuals have the right to take law into their hands. In addition to doing that, they also committed the crime of killing a man – the aspect the country should focus attention on, and give priority in legal proceedings. But as of now, what is coming to the fore through the FIR of Pehlu Khan case? The matter gets limited to the issue whether he was cow-smuggler or not. If he was, does it mean that everything that happened after that was right? Although the previous government had arrested those who led the attack, they were released within a few months. When legal proceedings are ongoing against victims in several similar cases, reports emerge of the culprits getting acquittal or concessions in punishment. When rule of law is so shamelessly broken, the country is bound to nosedive into violence and anarchy irreversibly. And that will serve the intersts of none.
Through more than one judgement, the Supreme Court had asked authorities to view mob lynchings seriously. What many incidents establish is that regardless of whether the ruling party is BJP or Congress, what gets implemented is the agenda of extreme communalists. Communalism has infiltrated bureaucracy and the police forces to an alarming degree. When the government itself shows is sinister proclivities, one way out is for the public and judiciary to intervene and attempt to rectify it. The Supreme Court had sent notice to a few states two years ago, directing them to consider banning goons involved in lynching. And last year a three-judge bench of the court affirmed that cow vigilantism is a crime and the states had the responsibility to stop it. This was followed by another order after two months that the directions had to be enforced forthwith. In the absence of active intervention of the central and state governments, all this ends up as a feeble and ineffective cry in the wilderness.
The first thing to be realized in this context is that the trend will not only lead to the end of a few dairy farmers, but also mean the destruction of the entire country. The voices against rule of mob goons cannot be feeble and isolated. Every statement and every act of resistance that strengthen such voices represents a new freedom struggle for the country. Since the NDA came to power in 2014 until early June 2019, over forty instances of cow goondaism have been reported in which dozens of people lost their lives and innumerable victims had to suffer torture and families were orphaned. This is the time for patriots to intervene. Legal action, activism, awareness creation about law and against communalism are some of the means of solving the problem.
One major step would be the enforcement of Supreme Court's directions issued in the Tehseen Poonawalla case last year. That set of instructions aiming at preventing mob attacks and eliminating them, had contained proposals like making comprehensive laws against them and appointing district level nodal officers. But after the Supreme Court's said directives issued on 17 July 2018, it was within a week that Rakbar Khan was killed in Alwar. In numerous other instances of attacks, the police follows an approach of either indifference or favouring the assailants. In a comprehensive law along the lines proposed by the court, the police officials cannot sit quiet. In the public interest litigation filed in Jharkhannd High Court by public activist Harsh Mandir, several precise proposals have also been included. Sufficient compensation to victims and their families, special 'lynching case' courts in each district and stringent punishment to policemen who fail in their duty are some of them. It is essential to make governments legally bound to provide citizens with such constitutional safeguards. In this, political parties – especially the Opposition – have great responsibility. This is a critical time when the civic society and media should raise their voice for the country. Nothing would be more wrong than to assume that incidents ranging from cow vigilantism to killing people after forcing them to chant 'jai sriram', will affect only a certain section of society.