Church leader upset with acquittals in India lynching case

Bishop D'Souza says 'shocking' court verdict in Rajasthan cow vigilante trial sets a bad precedent
Church leader upset with acquittals in India lynching case

An Indian devotee offers food to a cow during the Ram Navami festival at the Shri Ram Hunuman Vatika temple in New Delhi in April 2017. The cow is a revered animal in orthodox Hinduism. (Photo by Dominique Faget/AFP)

ucanews.com reporter, New Delhi
India
August 16, 2019
A Catholic bishop in western India says he is pained by a court's decision to acquit six people accused of beating to death a Muslim man two years ago in a cow protection case.

The court in Alwar district of Rajasthan on Aug. 14 gave “the benefit of doubt” in setting free the six, who were accused of being part of a cow vigilante mob that beat 55-year-old Pehlu Khan on a public road on April 1, 2017. Khan died in a hospital.

“The verdict is shocking and it pained me greatly,” said Bishop Pius Thomas D’Souza of Ajmer. “It is very sad as it comes when video footage was available of the mob lynching incident.”

State Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot told media that the government will appeal against the order in a higher court.

The order was pronounced in the presence of the six accused, who were released on bail at different stages of the trial. Three other accused minors are facing proceedings before Alwar’s Juvenile Justice Board.

Khan and his two sons were attacked by a group when they were transporting cattle to their home from nearby Haryana state. Khan was accused of smuggling cows for slaughter, reportedly because he could not produce evidence of permission for transporting cattle.

The prelate, however, expressed hope that justice will be done in a higher court.

The slaughter of a cow, a revered animal in orthodox Hinduism, is banned by law in the state as in several other northern Indian states.

Various laws regulating banning cow slaughter, prohibiting sale or transport of cows, and possession and trade of beef exist in 20 of India’s 29 states.

Vigilante groups to protect cows have been active in several Indian states, particularly since the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014.

The government continues to face allegations of supporting Hindu groups that take the law into their hands with impunity as they accelerate action to make India a Hindu-only nation.  

Akhtar Hussain, the lawyer representing Khan's family, feared the acquittals will lead to a surge in the number of lynchings.

Defence lawyer Hukum Chand Sharma called the court decision historic. He told media that witnesses produced by the prosecution could not identify the accused. He said Khan was a heart patient and there were differing opinions on the cause of death — a heart attack or a rib fracture.

The lawyer argued that the witness who filmed the video of the incident did not appear in court and also it was not sent for forensic examination to prove its authenticity.

The verdict has come “to symbolize the lowest point in a system that allowed mobs to kill in the name of protecting cows and get away with it, either because of political links or shoddy investigation,” said rights activist Anant Bhantnagar.

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Bhantnagar, who works with the People’s Union of Civil Liberties, said the police made the case so weak deliberately to get the accused acquitted.

Mission Sisters of Ajmer nun Carol Geeta, a rights activist working in Rajasthan, echoed those sentiments.

“The shoddy investigation led to the acquittals,” she said as she called for a case of criminal negligence to be registered against officials involved in the probe.

“Such acquittals give impunity to those killing in the name of cows, which is a threat to the democratic values of our great nation.”

Published reports show that at least 44 people have been killed in vigilante attacks since 2015 in over 80 incidents, which also injured 140 people.

At least 36 of the dead victims were Muslims but they also included socially poor Dalit Hindus and tribal Christians.

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