Stuck in heavy traffic under the pouring rain, Irshad Khan was delayed on his way to the court in Alwar Wednesday evening, when his lawyer called him. Irshad was told that all six men accused of killing his father Pehlu Khan had been acquitted.
Irshad (28) said he was “shocked” by the verdict but held himself together so he could first call his mother, Jaibuna, who was waiting by the phone for the latest update at the family’s home in Mewat’s Jaisinghpur village.
“I was sitting near my phone ever since Irshad left, waiting to hear what happened in court. When he finally called me and told me all the accused had been acquitted, I was heartbroken. I started to feel giddy and had to lie down,” said Jaibuna.
“All of us have been very troubled ever since the verdict was announced. The court was the only place where we thought we could get justice, but that has also not happened.”
On April 1, 2017, another phone call changed Jaibuna’s life. Then it was news of the attack on her husband and children. Pehlu Khan, his two sons and two companions travelling together were attacked by cow vigilantes while transporting cattle in Alwar’s Behror area. The incident was caught on camera and Khan was taken to hospital.
And two days later, Khan succumbed to his injuries but named six persons as his assailants. But weeks later, the Rajasthan Police closed the case against all six men he named, and chargesheeted instead, nine others, including three minors, in September 2017. Six of the adults were acquitted Wednesday after the court gave them the benefit of the doubt and slammed police for “gross negligence” and “serious shortcomings”.
Editorial | Injustice system
Sitting in the family’s single storey home, which is currently occupied by six of Khan’s eight children, two of their wives, and his three grandchildren, Irshad, however, is quick to add that this is not the end of the road for the family in their pursuit of justice.
“Until there is breath in our bodies, we will pursue this case. We will appeal in the High Court and the Supreme Court if required, but we will not rest until the men who killed our father are punished,” he said.
The road to this end though, the family acknowledges, will not be easy. With only two earning members, who also only take up temporary jobs, usually working as labourers for Rs 200 to Rs 500 a day, their finances are stretched.
Also, Irshad and Arif were chargesheeted by police in May 2019, months after the Congress assumed power in Rajasthan, under sections of the Rajasthan Bovine Animal (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot then had said the Congress government would determine if the investigation into the lynching was carried out with “predetermined intentions”. The case will be re-investigated if any discrepancy is found, he had said. Following that, the Alwar police had submitted an application at a court in Behror to “further investigate” the case, which was later granted by the court.
“The work that our father did is no longer an option. This is the case not just for us, but for everyone in this area. There is a lot of fear. We do not even keep cows anymore, forget transporting them from one place to another. Anyone can come into our house and claim we are going to slaughter them, and we cannot defend ourselves,” said Irshad, adding that even when the incident leading to Khan’s death occurred, his companions and he had all the required documentation to prove their work was completely legal, “but that was no protection”.
When Khan was alive, his son said, the family had a monthly income of Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000. Though he was the sole breadwinner, he worked as a dairy farmer as well as a cattle trader, they said. Following his death, however, most of the income that the family earns is spent on lawyer fees and travelling to and from Alwar for the court cases.
“We have to spend around Rs 5,000 to Rs 6,000 on lawyers, and another Rs 2,000 to Rs 3,000 in travelling to and from Alwar for work related to the case. We have so far ended up having to make this trip at least four or five times a month,” said Irshad.
“It is going to be expensive, but we will continue to fight this case. We will stop the education of our children if we have to, but we will not give up,” said Jaibuna.
Among the four children who are old enough for school, only one – aged 10 – actually attends. With education up to only Class 8 provided by government schools in the village, the only way for the children to pursue further education is to attend private schools in the vicinity, for which the family has little money.
The biggest change for the family since Khan’s death, however, has been the difference in the “atmosphere” in the house, said Jaibuna.
“There has been no happiness since then, only worry and sorrow. Two of my grandchildren have been born since then, but his death has cast a shadow even over that. If we had got justice now, we may have been able to move on but, at this point, it seems we have many more battles to fight.”