Elementary, my dear Watson,’ Sherlock Holmes would have said, but the way the Pehlu Khan lynching was handled by the Rajasthan police casts serious doubts on the fairness and capability of the police to render justice. A Rajasthan court, while acquitting the six accused, said it had no option but to give them the benefit of the doubt because of “serious shortcomings” in the police investigation. The probe by the police raises many questions about its fairness and even ability.
There are several lacunae, among them is that while Khan, in his dying declaration, named six persons, a different set of six were arrested and made the accused. Another glaring lapse was that videos of the incident, which did the rounds on social media and TV channels, were never sent for forensic examination. That was a key evidence with the prosecution.
This is not the first criminal case wherein the accused have had to be let off because of shoddy investigation. The Priyadarshini Mattoo rape-and-murder case of Delhi was a high-profile crime which fell and initially went unpunished. The Hashimpura massacre case of Meerut was another. Such cases show that there is an urgent need to make police investigation fair and robust. One way out is a court-monitored probe. Then, there is a better prospect of their fairness. The recent Kathua case is an example. But there are lakhs of criminal cases in India, so how many cases can courts, which are already overburdened, monitor? Perhaps courts can limit themselves to those that are politically-sensitive.
A better solution is to make the police accountable. In 2014, the SC had suggested this as a way out and directed the government to take measures to punish the erring policemen. It said every acquittal in a criminal case should be interpreted as a failure of the justice delivery system. The court also ordered training for cops handling sensitive cases. There should also be a mechanism in place to make cases free of interference from the political class and the influential. Only then can everyone hope to get justice.