Haryana cops lathicharge farmers, fresh row erupts

  • The police said Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which bans the assembly of five or more people, was imposed in the area, which made the farmers’ gathering “unlawful”.

The Haryana Police on Saturday lathicharged a group of protesting farmers in Karnal, leading to fresh protests and a political war of words against the backdrop of an ongoing agitation against three contentious farm laws.

Members of different farm unions assembled at the Bastara toll plaza on NH-44 near Karnal as chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar chaired a state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) meeting at a private hotel ahead of the upcoming local polls, people aware of the matter said.

The police said Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC), which bans the assembly of five or more people, was imposed in the area, which made the farmers’ gathering “unlawful”. According to the police, they made repeated announcements to the farmers to disperse but they were adamant on moving towards the venue of the BJP meeting. All roads leading to the venue were heavily barricaded.

The farmers said the police started beating the protesters without any provocation, injuring at least 10. “Many farmers were injured after police brutally lathicharged them without any provocation. Some even could be seen with blood all over their clothes,” Haryana Bhartiya Kisan Union (Chaduni) chief Gurnam Singh Chaduni said.

The police, however, denied the charge. “We used mild force because they were blocking the highway. Some stones were also pelted towards the police. Mild force was used to disperse the protesters,” Karnal police IG Mamta Singh said.

Karnal Sub-Divisional Magistrate Ayush Sinha was caught on camera instructing police officers to hit farmers on their heads if they tried to breach a certain barricade during their protest against Bharatiya Janata Party leaders in Haryana on Saturday.

Several political leaders, including BJP’s Varun Gandhi, criticised the Indian Administrative Service officer’s comments. “I hope this video is edited and the DM did not say this,” Gandhi tweeted. “Otherwise, this is unacceptable in democratic India to do to our own citizens.”

At least 10 farmers were injured after the state police baton-charged them at the Bastara toll plaza near Karnal. The farmers, protesting against the government’s three agricultural laws, had blocked several stretches on the national highway, resulting in traffic jams.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of over 40 protesting farmer unions, condemned the police brutality and demanded that Sinha be suspended for making such comments.

Sinha, however, told ANI that “stone pelting had started at many places” during the protest and therefore the police was asked to “use force proportionately”.ADVERTISEMENT

Officials also tried to justify his comments, claiming that he “did not say anything wrong and was just doing his duty at the time of such pressure”, The Indian Express reported.

Sinha told the newspaper that he was on duty at the final checkpost, which was very close to a meeting chaired by Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar to discuss the upcoming panchayat elections.

“If any element was to reach there, he would have already breached two nakas [checkposts] before it,” he added. “The third naka was very close to the meeting venue. There was a high possibility that any breach of the third naka would have led to vandalisation, and also certain unscrupulous elements were part of these protesting groups. It could have been a security threat.”

The officer also claimed that the videos being shared on social media were doctored and had selected bits of his orders. “I was briefing them [the policemen] on the procedure, a checklist as per provisions under the CrPC [Code of Criminal Procedure],” he told The Indian Express. “I told them that we would give them [protestors] warnings, followed by use of water cannons, announcement of tear gas firing and then lathicharge, if need be.”ADVERTISEMENT

Congress General Secretary Randeep Surjewala accused the Haryana government of behaving like Reginald Edward Harry Dyer – the British army officer responsible for the 1919 Jalianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi shared a photo of an injured protestor with blood-stained clothes. “The blood of farmers has been shed again and the country bows its head in shame,” he tweeted.

Farmers agitating against the central farm laws have been staging protests near the public functions of the state’s ruling BJP- Jannayak Janta Party (JJP) combine in Haryana since last year. Several farmers have been camping at Delhi’s borders since November last year, seeking a repeal of the new farm laws, which they say will erode their bargaining power, weaken a system of assured prices, and leave them vulnerable to exploitation by farm businesses. The government has maintained that the laws aim to ease restrictions on farm trade by setting up free markets, allow traders to stockpile large stocks of food for future sales and lay down a framework for contract farming.

On Saturday, the farmers blocked all highways and link roads in Haryana for over four hours after the police action. The blockade was lifted at around 7.30pm after the police released 11 detained farmers. “The police have released the farmers and we have decided to open the blockade but the decision about the agitation will be taken on Monday,” Chaduni said.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi attacked the BJP government after the incident. “Once again the blood of farmers is shed, India’s head bows in shame,” he said in a tweet.

Khattar, however, rejected the charge and said: “Obstructing official work is against democracy. If they [farmers] wanted to protest, they should’ve done it peacefully. If they jam highways and throw stones at police, then police will also take steps… We’ll look into it and take necessary action.”