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Bishop upset with India lynching case acquittals

NEW DELHI (UCAN): “The verdict is shocking and it pained me greatly,” Bishop Pius Thomas D’Souza of Ajmer in western India, said in reaction to the decision by a  court in Alwar district of Rajasthan on August 14 to acquit six people accused of beating a 55-year-old Muslim man, Pehlu Khan, to death two years ago in a cow protection case
In setting the accused free, the court gave them “the benefit of doubt.” They were accused of being part of a cow vigilante mob that beat Khan on a public road on 1 April 2017. He later died in a hospital.
“It is very sad as it comes when video footage was available of the mob lynching inciden,.” Bishop D’Souza said.
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.
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.
The bishop, however, expressed hope that justice would 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 well 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.  
Akhtar Hussain, the lawyer representing Khan’s family, feared the acquittals would 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 that it was also not sent for forensic examination to prove its authenticity.
The verdict has come “to symbolise 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,”  rights activist Anant Bhantnagar said.
Bhantnagar, who works with the People’s Union of Civil Liberties, said the police deliberately made the case so weak to get the accused acquitted.
Sister Carol Geeta of the Mission Sisters of Ajmer, a rights advocate 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, adding, “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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