Last week I went to Behror. Pehlu Khan was beaten to death here two years ago. I wanted to see what had happened to the men who lynched him. I stopped first in the bazaar. The shopkeepers I talked to smiled when I mentioned his name and said, “It happened in that street farther up… he deserved what he got. He was a cattle smuggler. His sons had been arrested earlier for cattle smuggling. If he wasn’t a smuggler, why did he have 10 cows in his truck?”
Since it is election time I also asked who was likely to win and they said without hesitation “there is a Modi wave”. I asked if this was because of the airstrike against Pakistan and they said it was.
My next stop was the police station. It is a dilapidated, yellow washed bungalow divided into a warren of tiny, windowless rooms. I was sent from one cubbyhole to the next. The officials I met seemed reluctant to talk about Pehlu Khan or his killers. Finally, in a room with peeling walls, a file was pulled from under a heap of other files, all wrapped in red cloth, and an offical gave me the names of two of the men who were charged with murder. They were the only two from Behror, he said, and so I went in search of one of them. Vipin Yadav s/o Sanjay Yadav, resident of Nainsukh Mohalla.
I wandered through narrow alleys lined with dirty drains. Nobody seemed to know Vipin Yadav. They suggested I go to the courthouse.
So I arrived in another ramshackle warren of rooms. Once more I was sent from room to room, official to offical, without learning anything about the case or the killers. It was only when I drove four hours to Pehlu Khan’s village in Haryana and met his widow and son that I discovered that the reason why nobody wants to talk about the case is because justice is unlikely to ever be done.
Arif, a scrawny young man who was with his father when they were attacked, spoke in an emotionless voice. “We cannot go to Behror. Last time we tried to go for a hearing, gunmen fired at our car in Neemrana. They warned us not to try going any further. So our lawyer is now trying to get the case transferred to Alwar.”
In the same emotionless voice he told me what happened on April 1, 2017, when they were stopped by cow vigilantes in Behror. “We had two cows and two calves in the truck… and papers to show that they were bought at the cattle fair in Jaipur. They tore the papers up and looked at my father’s beard and said you are Muslims. Then they started beating us with hockey sticks and belts. They said they were from the Bajrang Dal. They beat us so badly that I am still in pain. There was so much blood in my eyes that I could not see.”
The police came half an hour later and took them to the local hospital. By then their cows had been stolen by the killers who also stole the Rs 70,000 that they had with them.
Pehlu Khan’s widow did not know what had happened to her husband and sons till three days later. “Someone in the village saw the video on the Net,” she said, her voice breaking, “and they showed it to me. That is how I found out what happened.”
The family has given up dairy farming and now rely on what Zebunia’s sons can earn by working as helpers to truck drivers. They have no land and have been given no compensation by either the governments of Rajasthan or Haryana. In the rough courtyard of their small, crumbling house is parked a shiny new tractor. Someone from Dubai gave this to them as a gift and they make some money from loaning it to those who have land.
As I was leaving, Arif said, “I don’t know why they did this to us. What is the difference between Muslims and Hindus except that we pray to Allah and they pray to Ishwar?” His words haunt me as did the video of his father being beaten to death.
What is truly troubling is that there is a Congress government in Rajasthan now and it has done nothing to help Pehlu Khan’s family get justice. They were promised a compensation of Rs 5 lakh that everyone seems to have forgotten about.
Everyone I talked to that day said there was a “Modi wave”. If he becomes prime minister again, we must hope that men like those who killed Pehlu Khan are jailed instead of roaming free. Democracy is not possible without the rule of law. We must hope that Modi remembers this if he becomes prime minister again.
(Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @tavleen_singh