The Big Story: The vanishing mob

On April 1, Pehlu Khan, a dairy farmer from Mewat, was stopped by a mob at a national highway near Alwar as he was returning home with his cows. He produced papers to show the cows had been bought for milk but he was dragged out, beaten up and robbed by men claiming to be gau rakshaks. A few days later, he died of his injuries. Now, the Rajasthan police have closed the case against the six men named by Khan before he died. Their stated reason: the lack of “scientific evidence”. The police based their decision on the testimonies from a cow shelter a few kilometres away and mobile phone call details which apparently prove the men were not at the site of the crime. Since all six are still missing, none of them would have been questioned before they were cleared.

It is to be assumed that the police have sound reasons for privileging the testimonies of men at a cow shelter over that of the victim. Nine others are still accused in the case, of whom five are out on bail, and two are absconding. The police and state government’s record on the matter, however, do not give reason for confidence that the guilty will be brought to book. Soon after the incident, the police moved fast to file first information reports – against three of the men who were beaten up by the mob that killed Pehlu Khan. And when the government broke its silence, it was to obscure the details of the case in a fog of justification and denial. The Rajasthan home minister claimed it was “alright” that people who were “illegally” transporting animals were caught, though no one had the right to take the law into their own hands. The Union minister of state for parliamentary affairs, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, later tried to deny that such an incident had taken place.

In the rash of high-profile lynching cases that have broken out across the country in the last few years, not a single conviction has been reported. Of the 19 accused of murdering Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri in 2015, 16 are out on bail and the victim’s family now face charges of cow slaughter and animal cruelty. In June this year, 15-year-old Junaid Khan was stabbed in a train on the outskirts Delhi but three months later, only a chargesheet has been filed against the accused. Other cases, in Jharkhand, West Bengal, Gujarat, Assam and other states, reveal the same trajectory: few have made it to trials, many of the accused are out on bail, several incidents have seen no arrests. The horrifying phenomenon of mob violence has grown in a permissive political climate, where the government remained silent on these killings or pushed for stringent cow slaughter laws. If the police and the political establishment are to prove that they are serious about cracking down on lynchings, these cases must set an example, with rigorous investigations, timely trials and convictions. Does the investigation into the death of Pehlu Khan meet these standards?

The Big Scroll

Abhishek Dey speaks to both police and Pehlu Khan’s family after the clean chit to the six accused.

Aarefa Johari found the Rajasthan police had filed an FIR against the victims of the lynching before they registered one against the mobs accused of the murder.


  1. In the Indian Express, Dev Lahiri tries to diagnose the structural problems behind the murder of a child in a Gurugram shcool.
  2. In the Hindu, Suhrith Parthasarathy argues that deporting Rohingya would violate India’s obligations under both domestic and international law.
  3. In Livemint, Noah Smith writes that China is not the only reason to question free trade.


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Nayantara Narayan writes on the failures of the health system that are to blame for child deaths:

India accounts for 26% of all neonatal deaths – death within the first 28 days – in the world, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund. About two million infants and newborns die every year. With institutional deliveries at almost 80% now in the country, many of these deaths occur at hospitals and health facilities.

In many recent cases where child deaths have been reported, doctors have blamed the cause of death on birth asphyxia, a condition in which oxygen supply is cut off to the infant due to obstructions in its airways. Often news reports have attributed the causes of death to lack of oxygen, drawing parallels to Gorakhpur. Birth asphyxia is very different from disruption of oxygen administered externally from an oxygen pipe or cylinder. External oxygen supply is what is being investigated in the Gorakhpur case.