New Delhi: The petitioners in a case against cow vigilantism –Tehseen Poonawalla and Shehzad Poonawalla –on Friday stated that they would raise the plight of the family members of murdered dairy farmer Pehlu Khan before the Supreme Court on September 22.
On Thursday, the Rajasthan police cleared six men who were named and identified by Khan before his death. Khan was lynched last April when transporting cattle with his sons from Nuh to Jaipur.
Accusing the BJP-led state government of shielding the culprits, the lawyer-activist duo, who have been associated with the Congress party, stated that they would raise the matter before the apex court on September 22 and demand among other things that the case be transferred out of Rajasthan. They will also demand that the court monitor the investigation.
Even convictions can be based on dying declaration
At a press conference organised at senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh’s residence on Friday, Shehzad Poonawalla said that the letting off of the six accused, who had been named by Pehlu Khan just before he died, was “contrary to law” since the Supreme Court apex court had laid down through its various judgments that “even convictions can be based on dying declarations”. Shehzad further alleged that the Rajasthan police were “acting under some pressure’” and had used fflimsy grounds to give a clean chit to the confused. used flimsy ground to overrule them and to give a clean chit to the accused. This, he said, smacked of a “massive cover up”.
He further said, “there is neither rule of law nor of prudence that dying declaration cannot be acted upon without corroboration” as has been laid down by Munnu Raja versus State of Madhya Pradesh (1976). He added that “if the court is satisfied that the dying declaration is true and voluntary it can base the conviction on it, without corroboration” – as was noted in State of UP versus Ram Sagar Yadav (1985) as also Ramawati Devi versus State of Bihar (1983).
Shehzad also noted that according to the investigation report, the six men have been cleared on the basis of “statements by staff of a cow shelter and policemen, as well as mobile phone records.” He said the staff of the cow shelter, Rath Gaushala, has maintained that Om Yadav, Hukum Chand Yadav, Sudhir Yadav, Jagmal Yadav, Naveen Sharma and Rahul Saini were present on their premise,s which was about 4 km from the attack site. However, the lawyer pointed out that this cow shelter was patronised by Jagmal Yadav, who himself was an accused.
Police lethargy led to bail and clean chit
Of the 15 accused in the case, he said, two were minors and six have been let off. Out of the remaining seven accused, he said five have been granted bail even though some of them were clearly seen on camera beating up Pehlu. Shehzad charged that the police officers had helped them on the ground that there was no evidence against them.
That being the case, he pointed out, “why they were arrested at all in the first place?”
High Court’s role also questioned
Shehzad also questioned the manner in which the high court, while granting bail to Ravindra had stated in one place that he was saving the victim while in another place in its order it had noted that he was not even present at the place where the attack took place and was at a different crossing.
For his part, Tehseen Poonawalla charged that the discharge of the six accused amounted to a “complete cover up”. He claimed that these men belonged to Hindutva right wing groups.
Tehseen, who had offered to fight Khan’s case pro bono, also made a payment of Rs 25,000 to Khan’s family members along with Digvijay Singh. The cheque was presented to Khan’s wife, Zaibuna. He said it was as important to fight the legal battle as it was to support Khan’s family financially because the murder had deprived them of a major source of livelihood.
Responding to a question on how the case would be taken forth in the apex court, Tehseen said: “Recently the Supreme Court in our PIL against cow vigilantism has not only issued notices to the Centre and six state governments, including Rajasthan, it has also asked for strict action against cow vigilantism and has ordered the appointment of senior police officers as nodal officers in every district to crackdown on such cases.” However, according to Tehseen, none of the seven governments have replied to the notice thus far.
Tehseen said as lawyers, the team would be “seeking transfer of the cases outside Rajasthan and demand a court monitored probe as no fair probe can be expected from the Rajasthan police given the political and ideological support given to the perpetrators.” He said the court would also be urged to cancel the bails of some of the accused who had targeted Khan despite his telling them that he had purchased the cattle from a government fair and had papers to prove it.
Victims are being made the accused
Tehseen also alleged that that what has been happening in various parts of the country is that “the victims are being made the accused and the state is protecting the accused”. In Rajasthan, a case was registered against Pehlu Khan under the cattle slaughter law and the home minister spoke in favour of the accused. In Dadri, Uttar Pradesh following the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq, when one of the accused, Ravin Sisodia was killed, the tricolour was placed on his coffin and union minister Mahesh Sharma had visited his residence.
Tehseen, who has been pursuing the issue of amending the Indian Penal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code for treating mob lynching cases separately, said a sum of Rs 25 lakhs has been proposed to the victims under this proposal which is called Manav Suraksha Kanoon or Masuka.
Family gets death threats; fearful of visiting Behror
At the press conference, Pehlu Khan’s son, Irshad, explained why in the face of constant threats and fear of life to the other family members it had become necessary to transfer the case outside Rajasthan. He said while attending court proceedings in Behror, where his father was killed, the family faced threats from the accused. “The police and BJP government colluded and we are threatened that “qatl-e-aam kardengay” (you will be massacred),” he said.
Irshad said that an “open challenge” had been thrown to his family by the accused – “kabhi Behror to aana’ (Try and come to Behror some time). As for the police, he said, while they repeatedly assured the family that action would be taken against the accused, they allowed the six to walk away without even spending a single day in a lock-up.
“Both my father and I had seen and heard the killers”
Asked if his father had seen the accused, Irshad replied in the positive and affirmed that they had also heard the names clearly while they were being assaulted. He said the images of the day when his father was brutally attacked were still vividly clear.
“In Behror, if we well go to court, we will be killed,” said Irshad adding that the place is 140 km from where the family resides in Haryana. “The accused are all dabangg (strongmen) and even lawyers standing up to them are threatened. My own lawyer in the high court cautioned me to be careful while going there. And accused Ravindra. on coming out on bail. had threatened chhalli chhalli kar dengay (we will be shot to smithereens).”
Congress leader Digvijay Singh accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of being “responsible for instigating this kind of violence throughout the country”. He said while the prime minister tweets on even small issues, why did he not come out an criticised the killing the Gauri Lankesh. I charge him of being a “willing accomplice”, he said, adding that “even as chief minister he used to honour cow vigilantes”.
Pointing out that since 2015, there have been 16 cases of mob lynching, Singh said this is what had necessitated the drafting of the Masuka Bill. He said the Rajasthan government was out to save the accused and the statements in their favour by the home ,inister and an MLA had vitiated the atmosphere. Referring to the cases of Samjhauta blast case accused Swami Aseemanand and Malegaon blast case accused Colonel Shrikant Purohit, he alleged that the Centre was only interested in saving the “wrongdoers”.
“The government is creating an atmosphere of fear and terror and criminals are being sheltered. This is not in the interest of the nation.”