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(This story has been republished from The Quint’s archives in the light of the Alwar district court acquitting all six accused in the 2017 Pehlu Khan lynching case on 14 August 2019. It was originally published on April 2019.)
“I first saw it on the net and then panicked. I thought to myself, ‘What’s happening?’ We didn’t have enmity with anyone,” says Zaibuna. Her husband, Pehlu Khan, was lynched on 1 April 2017.
Pehlu Khan succumbed to his injuries two days later on 3 April 2017.
Two years on, a distraught Zaibuna is finding it hard to cope with the tragic loss of the family’s breadwinner.
Callous Attitude of the Administration
Just days ahead of the holy month of Ramzan, Pehlu Khan had gone to Jaipur and purchased a cow. “He hadn’t stolen it from anyone. Then why did this happen to us?” asks Zaibuna as grief gives way to anger. There is no aggression in her voice though.
In monotone, Zaibuna explains how Pehlu had thought that cow’s milk would come in handy during the fast.
It was during his return trip to Nuh district in Haryana when Pehlu Khan and his son were attacked by a group of ‘cow vigilantes’ on Behror highway in Rajasthan.
Pehlu Khan’s house in Jaisingpur village has now gotten used to frequent visits by journalists. But it’s visits by politicians they’re still waiting for.
The family hasn’t got a word of condolence from the local BJP MP or INLD MLA till date.
“Not a single person from the administration visited Nuh to ask, ‘What happened? How did it happen? How was your father killed?” says Mubarik, Pehlu’s younger son.
With No Breadwinner, Economic Hardship Makes Itself Felt
Mubarik works as a labourer on someone else’s field, under a system prevalent in villages, known as ‘bataidari (or sharecropping)’.
As part of the ‘bataidari’ system, rich landlords often rent out their land for cultivation and the profit incurred on the sale of crops is divided equally.
“If we produce 8 quintals of wheat annually, then half of this belongs to the landlord. We have to ensure that there is enough grain in his (landlord’s) house.”Mubarik
Since half of 8 quintals of wheat is claimed by the local landlord, Mubarik and his family are left with only 4 quintals.
The MSP of wheat is Rs 1,840 per quintal, as approved by the Cabinet in October 2018.
If one multiplies Rs 1,840 by 4, Mubarik’s annual earning comes to just Rs 7,360.
It was for this reason that the family was looking forward to the purchase of the cow, which could have helped boost their finances.
Lynching Not Enough, Charges Slapped Too
A few houses away, Azmat Khan’s mother looks longingly at the empty cow shed where a wooden ladder rests these days.
Azmat is an eyewitness in the case and was accompanying Pehlu Khan in another pick-up truck. Showing a receipt issued by the municipal corporation of Jaipur, dated 1 April 2017, Azmat asks in an irate voice what they had done wrong.
“The accused got bail within a span of one month and charges were slapped against us saying that we were cow smugglers.”Azmat Khan, Eyewitness in Pehlu Khan’s case
Six accused in the Pehlu Khan’s were given a clean chit by the Rajasthan police in September 2017.
On 29 September 2018, Azmat and Pehlu’s elder son Arif were shot at while the duo were on their way to appear at the trial court in Alwar.
Raising questions about the glaring holes in the investigation, Azmat wonders why justice has been denied to them.
“Till date, we have not been called to the court and asked to identify the accused.”Azmat Khan, Eyewitness in Pehlu Khan’s Case
Impact of Lynchings in Haryana’s Mewat Region
Haryana is among three states, along with Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan, that has reported the highest number of lynchings since 2014.
Pehlu Khan is not the only victim in the state who lost his life during a spate of lynching incidents across the country.
In June 2017, 16-year-old Junaid was stabbed to death on board a train following an argument over seat. Junaid and his brothers were attacked by a mob on suspicion of carrying beef.
In a state with 7.03 percent Muslim population, as per the Census 2011, will lynching have an impact on BJP’s electoral prospects?
“Lynchings won’t have an impact in other parts of Haryana except Mewat, which includes Nuh region and Gurugram.”Khazan Singh Sangwan, Retired Professor, MDU Rohtak
Sangwan, former dean at the faculty of social science in Rohtak’s Maharishi Dayanand University, is of the opinion that BJP won’t be able to repeat its 2014 performance in the state.
He further said that this loss for BJP will benefit the Congress as there are few takers for the INLD following the party’s split last year.
Tilt Towards the Congress Party
Inside Pehlu Khan’s pucca house with broken boundary walls, one’s attention is drawn to a flag fluttering atop the roof. It’s the hand symbol of the Congress on the flag, a political tilt evident days before elections.
“If Congress comes to power, it doesn’t differentiate between Hindus and Muslims. The current party in power differentiates (between Hindus and Muslims) resulting in such attacks.”Zaibuna, Wife of Pehlu Khan
But not everyone is willing to be as open about their political leanings. When asked, who will he vote for in these elections, a neighbour of Zaibuna said, “Government always work on a system of change.”
Dairy Farming Takes a Hit
Pehlu Khan’s lynching changed the fate of his entire village. Farmers with small landholdings usually depend on dairy farming as a supplementary source of income.
But that alternative means of livelihood was badly hit in this area after ‘cow vigilantes’ targeted Pehlu Khan in 2017.
“For at least six months up to a year (after Pehlu Khan’s killing), locals were scared to keep a cow. Some have even stopped rearing cows altogether. It has become difficult to sustain our livelihood.”Irshad, Resident, Jaisingpur Village
Among issues that bother the residents of Jaisingpur village are jobs, as many young men are daily-wage labourers. Irshad, a local, says that people from Jaisingpur travel up to 20 kms in order to earn Rs 300 a day.
Living in fear under the current BJP government and tired of the erstwhile INLD government in the state, residents of Jaisingpur village have many reasons for their disillusionment with netas.
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