On 14 September, over five months after a mob of cow-protection vigilantes killed the cattle farmer Pehlu Khan and injured his sons Ibrar and Areef, the Crime Investigation Department of Rajasthan announced that it was closing the investigations involving the six people that Khan had named before succumbing to his injuries. In early September, the CID submitted a report to the Alwar police, in which they stated that the six men—Om Yadav, Hukum Chand Yadav, Sudhir Yadav, Jagmal Yadav, Naveen Sharma and Rahul Saini—were not present at the site where Khan was lynched in Behror, in Rajasthan, this April. The CID reportedly cited statements from people working in a nearby cow shelter who said the six named were present on the premises of the cow shelter at the time of the attack. Of the 15 persons accused in the case, two were minors, and five were granted bail—at least one of them was visible in a widely circulated video of the attack.
It was against the backdrop of this announcement that the Karwan e Mohabbat team arrived in Haryana’s Nuh district—formerly known as Mewat. Led by the activist and former bureaucrat Harsh Mander, the Karwan is a month-long yatra through parts of northeastern, northern and western India. Mander and his team—which includes lawyers, researchers and other activists—intend to visit homes of people who were killed or lynched in incidents of brutal violence, often by cow-protection vigilantes. The Karwan team delivers condolences to the families of the victims, and proffers legal support to pursue cases—in many instances, the killers were never apprehended, or no cases were filed. In others, the police dubbed the deaths accidents, or charged the victims with crimes such as cattle smuggling or animal cruelty.
Stops on the Karwan’s journey, which began on 4 September in Nellie, Assam, have so far included Shabbirpur, in Uttar Pradesh, where violent caste-based attacks took place earlier this year, and Shamli, where various people have died in alleged encounters with the police. The Karwan team was scheduled to visit Behror, where the Khan family resides, on 15 September, the day after the CID’s announcement. The team received intimation that members of the Bajrang Dal and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad intended to protest their presence in Behror and prevent them from visiting Pehlu’s family. Though the police attempted to dissuade and subsequently forbade Mander and his team from completing the visit, the activist was able to lay flowers at the spot of the attack. Soon after, the Karwan bus was pelted with stones by a group of protestors.
A day before it reached Behror, however, the team had visited several villages in the Nuh district, in Haryana. I joined them during this leg of their visit to the state. In each of the villages, we met families of victims whose stories were uncannily similar to that of Pehlu’s. Each of them had been killed during attacks by gau rakshaks or in altercations with the police, and belonged to poor and oppressed minority communities. In each case, no one had been held responsible for the murder. Unlike Pehlu, however, few of these deaths had received widespread attention. Further, most family members said they received hardly any details of the deaths, and were not equipped to file complaints or pursue cases.
In a village named Bhango in Nuh district, the Karwan team visited the home of Khursheeda, a 30-year-old woman who belongs to the Meo community—a Muslim group specific to the historical Mewat region. Her husband, Ajmat, was allegedly killed amid police firing on 16 May 2010 at the state’s Kosi border. A group of about 50 people, including Karwan members, villagers, and reporters gathered in a clearing outside Khursheeda’s house—one of the smaller houses in the village, with a single room in which she and her three children stay.