A provincial government in India has said it will appeal a court ruling that acquitted six men charged with lynching a 55-year-old Muslim dairy farmer in 2017.
“Our state government has enacted [a] law against mob lynching … We are committed to ensuring justice for [the] family of late Pehlu Khan. [The] state government will file [an] appeal against the order,” Rajasthan state’s Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot posted on Twitter.
On Wednesday, a court in Rajasthan’s town of Alwar acquitted six of the nine defendants, despite videos showing a mob of roughly 200 cow vigilantes beating Khan and his two sons on a highway.
The three other accused are minors and are being tried in a juvenile court, Indian media reported.
After viewing videos of the assault and hearing the testimonies of more than 40 witnesses, the court said it could not indict the accused for lack of evidence.
Hukum Singh Sharma, a defence lawyer, said the court freed the six accused because the prosecution could not link them to the attack on Khan.
“Police had picked up innocent people and all the six accused were framed because of political reasons,” Singh said.
Videos taken on mobile phones showed Khan begging for mercy as the crowd set upon him after stopping his truck with cows he had bought at a cattle fair.
The vigilantes ignored Khan’s assurances that the cows would not be slaughtered. He died two days after the attack, but his sons survived.
The court did not accept the video evidence, Yogendra Singh, the prosecution lawyer, told NDTV news channel.
Since 2014 when Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power, Muslim organisations have complained about Muslims coming under attack amid a resurgence of right-wing Hindu agenda.
In Hindu-majority India, many consider cows sacred and killing the animal is outlawed in most states.
Vigilante squads roam highways in India, checking livestock trucks for animals being transported across state borders. This has proliferated since the Hindu nationalist BJP came to power.
Khan’s family said they were shocked by the verdict. Their legal team said the prosecution plans to file an appeal against the verdict in the High Court.
“We have lost faith in the law. For two and a half years, we have been waiting,” Khan’s eldest son Irshad told the Hindustan Times newspaper.
“We thought that justice would be delivered and it would give peace to my father’s soul but instead our hopes were shattered.”
“Utterly Shameful! This is a lynching that was caught on camera!!! We live in a state of utter anarchy it seems.. the law, the constitution, even evidence it seems are meaningless. Dark dark times!! #PehluKhan,” said Swara Bhasker, an activist and an actress.
Shama Mohamed, a spokeswoman for India’s opposition Congress party, branded the court’s decision “a gross travesty of justice”.