The seven-year prison sentence handed down to four out of five Rajasthan cow vigilantes for lynching Rakbar Khan in 2018 has brought little to no satisfaction to his widow, Asmeena. Her life has been spiralling downward since that tragic evening on July 20, 2018, when her husband had gone to herd cattle. That was the last time she saw him alive.
Soon after Rakbar’s lynching, Asmeena had met with an accident while on her way to see her sons who were admitted to a school in Aligarh with the help of an NGO.
While Khan’s two school-age daughters, who dropped out after his death, were married off when they were minors due to the difficult situation at home, their other five children, two daughters and three sons, attend school. The family survives on her widow pension and by selling milk to make the ends meet.
For Asmeena, the battle for justice is yet to be over. “We have not got justice. They had murdered my husband. The verdict of the court is a disappointment. We wanted death penalty or at least life imprisonment for all the accused. Also, the court has let off one of the accused which is unfair. We will not give up and go in appeal against the verdict to the high court,” Asmeena said while speaking to The Tribune on the phone.
On May 25, a local court in Rajasthan’s Alwar district had held four people guilty and acquitted one person in the 2018 Rakbar Khan lynching case. Rakbar Khan, alias Akbar Khan, was killed over the suspicion of cattle smuggling in Alwar district.
The court in Alwar on Thursday sentenced Dharmendra Yadav, Vijay Kumar, Paramjeet Singh and Naresh Kumar to seven-year imprisonment in the lynching of Khan on the suspicion of cow smuggling under Section 341 (Punishment for wrongful restraint) and 304 IPC (Punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder). It is essential to note that the said four were acquitted of the charges of murder (302) and rioting (147). Therefore, the court has held them guilty under section 304 (1), which means that there was knowledge but no intention to kill.
“The accused have tried to take the law in their hand under the garb of religion and tried to take action on their own level on cow smugglers. No religion gives permission to spread violence or hate”, Additional District and Sessions Judge Sunil Kumar Goyal said in its judgement.
“In a secular country such as India such incidents result in dealing a severe blow on the soul of the Indian constitution “, the judgement says.
The court added, “In such incidents which have high impact on the society, if a soft approach is undertaken then there is a high possibility of sending an opposite message in the society. Due to the actions of the accused, Rakbar (alias Akbar), who has several minor children, died an untimely death”.
In the judgment, the judge has held that the charge of murder has been dropped against the four accused as it could not be proved by the victim’s lawyer that there was any enmity between the accused and the victim. It was also curiously stated in the judgement that the accused did not beat the victim with the intention of killing him, and thus their offense did not attract the charge and punishment of murder.
The VHP leader, Naval Kishore, was acquitted by the court due to lack of evidence against him. The family of Khan deemed Naval Kishore as the main accused, the person behind the whole attack. Naval Kishore, a local VHP leader, was the man who had allegedly circulated a picture of Rakbar Khan sitting inside a police car. The incident had then raised questions on the biased conduct of the police, leading to the then-home minister Gulab Chand Kataria in the previous BJP regime, ordering a judicial inquiry.
All these accused were out on bail prior to the judgment on the orders of the High Court. As the court’s decision came earlier in the day, the four accused were taken into police custody. Meanwhile, some people raised slogans against the Gehlot government and Ramgarh MLA Safia Khan.
Reactions after the judgment by the district court
After the judgment came, the family members of late Rakbar Khan expressed their deep dissatisfaction on the trial court’s order, and stated that the said order will be challenged by them in the Rajasthan High Court.
Special Public Prosecutor Ashok Sharma said Kishore was made an accused based on a telephonic conversation with the other accused. However, the court gave him the benefit of doubt as it did not find any concrete evidence against him, he said. He also said that the said judgment needs to be challenged in the higher court. Reacting to the sentencing, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot also said, “We will get the decision reviewed. We will see what is written in the decision and later, we will see what can be done.”
Nasir Ali Naqvi, another SPP in the case, said he will be writing to the state government to appeal the lynching case in the high court. “The accused should have been convicted under murder charges (IPC section 302). Aslam had identified the one acquitted (Naval Kishore) in the court. The court had considered his statement which led to conviction of the others, how can Kishore be acquitted. I will be writing to the government to appeal the case in the high court,” Naqvi said. He said even under IPC section 304, maximum punishment of life imprisonment should have been given. It is to be noted that the Rajasthan government had appointed Naqvi as SPP in the case in February 2021 after Khan’s mother, Habiban, had raised concerns about the proceedings of the matter.
However, Naval Kishore stated that “… the four others are also innocent”, as reported by rediff.com. “There was no pressure on the trial court and it has acted according to the law. Even if the case is appealed in the high court, we have full faith in it,” he further said.
Speaking on the similar lives as Naval Kishore, defence lawyer Hemraj Gupta also claimed the court had overlooked the findings of a judicial inquiry in which police had been found at fault. In the statement of Aslam, who was the prime witness in the case, the accused names were not mentioned, Gupta said. He said that “we have given a notice to the director general of police and district superintendent of police that a judicial inquiry had found police fault in the case and no action was taken against them”.
A brief background of the 2018 Alwar Lynching Case
Rakbar, aged 31, and his friend Aslam Khan, aged 32, were transporting cows purchased from Ladpura village on the night of July 20 and 21, 2018, when they were allegedly stopped by villagers in Lalwandi, Alwar. The two were on their way to their village of Kolgaon in Haryana, which is about 11 kilometers from Lalwandi. Rakbar was severely beaten with sticks and stones and brutally assaulted. He died as a result of his injuries after being taken to the hospital by police. His friend Aslam, on the other hand, had managed to flee the scene.
An FIR was registered under Sections 143 (unlawful assembly), 341 (wrongful restraint), 323 (voluntarily causing hurt), 302 (murder) and 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code and four men have been charge sheeted in the case. The police had filed a charge sheet against Paramjeet Singh, Naresh Kumar, Vijay Kumar and Dharmendra Yadav in 2019.
As per the charge sheet, the accused had planned Rakbar’s lynching and they were secretly waiting in the field that day. One more thing revealed in the chargesheet was that the police first dropped the cows ‘saved’ by the mob to a cow shelter, and only then took severely injured Rakbar to the hospital.
It is crucial to note that the lynching of Rakbar Khan was not the first such incident. In actuality, Rakbar was the third dairy farmer to be allegedly lynched in the Mewat region of Rajasthan, exactly fifteen months after Pehlu Khan was lynched. It is pertinent to highlight here that in the alleged lynching of 55-year-old dairy farmer Pehlu Khan case, the court of Additional District Judge had acquitted all six men accused on the benefit of doubt.
It is also essential to note here that during the investigation of the said case, the suspicious actions of the police had also come under scanner. As per the independent investigation conducted by the Indian express, it was alleged that Rakbar was alive when the police had found him, and it was because of the police brutality he had faced while he was being question by them that Rakbar had died before he arrived at the hospital. It was also alleged that the self-styled cow protection groups ran an extortion racket, attacking dairy farmers who refuse to pay up, and Rakbar Khan faced lynching as he had refused to pay the extortion.
The complete judgment can be read here: