JATINDER KAUR TUR15 October 2021
Tajinder Singh Virk, a 48-year-old who led the farmers’ protest held in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri on 3 October, has alleged that the cars that ran over protesters that day were also targeting him. The cars—linked to the minister of state for home affairs, Ajay Mishra Teni—ran over several protesters including Virk. The farmer leader sustained multiple fractures on his skull and body. “The videos that I am seeing, everyone was there in a 500-metre stretch. They crossed people for 400 metres, came ahead and hit the area where I was standing,” Virk said. “Some people were looking out from the Thar”—the first car that rammed into the farmers—“to identify that ‘we have to hit here.’” Virk survived the incident with grievous injuries. He spoke to The Caravan while he was still recovering in a hospital.
Angered by the attack, farmers set fire to two of the vehicles that had been used to charge at them. In all, eight people died in the violence—four farmers, two Bharatiya Janata Party workers, a driver of one of the cars and a journalist. Several others sustained injuries. Farmers accused Teni’s son, Ashish Mishra, of being a part of the cavalcade that ran over protesters. While Teni denied his son’s presence at the incident, the Uttar Pradesh Police arrested Ashish on 9 October.
In the last week of September, Teni was shown black flags by protesting farmers at another event in the district’s Palia town. He had then given a threatening speech: “Sudhar jao, nahi toh hum aapko sudhaar denge, do minute lagega keval”—You better mend your ways, or we will teach you a lesson, it will only take a couple of minutes. In response to this, Virk had given a call for a protest in Lakhimpur Kheri on 3 October—a day when Teni and the deputy chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Keshav Prasad Maurya, were due to attend an event in the district. Virk, a native of Uttarakhand’s Rudrapur, is the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha’s coordinator for the state of Uttar Pradesh and a member of the national core committee of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, an umbrella organisation of several farmers’ organisations. Virk is also the national president of another farmers’ organisation, Terai Kisan Sangathan.
When I asked him if he thought he was targeted, Virk said, “Definitely.” According to Virk, at around 9.30 am on 3 October, a crowd started assembling at the helipad where Maurya’s helicopter was supposed to land. He added that within three hours thousands of protesters were present at the site. Maurya could not land at the spot and reportedly drove down to the event. The programme for which Maurya had arrived was located on the same road as the protest, Virk told me. “There was another route for that programme too,” he added.
Virk said that the farmers held a peaceful protest—they gave speeches that were broadcasted on a loudspeaker and some youth waived black flags. “BJP vehicles, with its flags, kept passing every now and then. We kept appealing from the loudspeakers, telling the youth showing black flags to let it be. We told them that our main aim is to stop the deputy CM, which we achieved, so let it be. What if some BJP workers infiltrate our protest, disturb the peace?”
At around 2 pm, SKM leaders and a local committee of farmers decided to end the protest. Virk told me that a police and district official arrived and said that they wanted to use the road around which the protesters had gathered for facilitating the deputy CM’s departure. The farmers’ representatives then asked these officials to change their route due to the large size of the crowd. Virk told me that at about 2.35 pm, a different pair of district and police officials approached him and asked him if the farmers wanted to give any memorandum to the deputy CM. “I told them that our demands are beyond the deputy CM’s level,” Virk said. “They pertain to the centre and that it was not a state matter.”
According to Virk, the officials again said that as per protocol, the deputy CM had to use the route that the farmers had asked them to not to take. “We said the crowd is too big, we explained to them for a while that, ‘There can be a law-and-order situation, so you divert the route,’” Virk told me. “They said, ‘What if we divert the route and you reach there as well?’ We told them that we won’t let that happen.” Virk said they asked the officials to inform them when the other programme was ending so that the protest and the programme didn’t end at the same time, “lest BJP workers and farmers came face to face.” According to Virk, the second district official said he would call them when the deputy CM left the programme. “We kept waiting for 10 minutes,” Virk said. They decided to end the protest around 3 pm.
According to Virk, at 2.55 pm, an unknown man in the crowd told him that he was being called somewhere on the road. He crossed a gate of the Agrasen Campus, where the helipad was located, and arrived at the road. The road had many protesters for a stretch of about 500 metres. “I, along with others from Rudrapur, were heading for the parking on the left side of the road, where our vehicles were parked,” Virk told me. “There were some five or six reporters ahead of me, who had asked for a byte. They were adjusting their cameras when I heard a voice from behind, maro”—hit. “I think they said, ‘Maro ey hi hai’”—Hit, he is the one. “I didn’t understand what happened then. I think the car dragged me for some 20–30 metres, while I was stuck between its tyres,” Virk recounted. The Thar that had hit him stopped after it reached a pothole filled with water, he said. He lost consciousness inside the pothole.
“I regained consciousness after five or six minutes,” Virk told me. “I was dizzy. And soaked in blood and sludge. My hair had opened up. I was in a bad state. I had fractures in my hands. Two persons somehow loaded me into a vehicle. There was this reporter who fractured his hand in the violence. He got a car. Amid this, there was chaos. I could hear, ‘Maro, maro.’ People were running helter-skelter. And the sound of gunshots came. I don’t know where it was coming from since I was hardly conscious. I was taken in the vehicle with another injured person in the rear seat. Perhaps he died subsequently.”
Virk said he was first taken to a small hospital in Tikunia town, where no doctor was available. From there, it took two hours for them to get to the Lakhimpur government hospital for some first aid. Four hours later, Virk told me, he reached the Medicity hospital in Rudrapur, where a major fracture in his skull was discovered and attended to. “Then, I finally reached Medanta”–in Gurgaon, Haryana—“at about 4 am. It was had been nearly 13 hours by then,” Virk said.
Referring to this call for the 3 October protest, Virk said, “That was my only interaction with Teni. I am from Rudrapur, which is more than 250 kilometres from this place.” He told me he had gone to Lakhimpur on the request of farmers from that area. “I had received calls from a lot of farmers there who, in the absence of any proper leadership, felt insecure,” Virk said. “I reached there on the request of these farmers and to extend support as the UP SKM coordinator.”
Virk told me that he and his family had been too shocked to file a complaint about the matter. He said that no police official had approached him for a statement. His lawyer, Ajitpal Singh Mander, also pointed out that it was strange that the special-investigation team that was investigating the Lakhimpur Kheri violence had not made an effort to record Virk’s statement even 12 days after the incident. “Virk’s statement is very important in the investigation as he has been seriously injured by the accused,” Mander said. “If the police, or SIT, does not record his statement then he shall take recourse of the provisions of Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, to record his statement and move the courts of law.”
JATINDER KAUR TUR is a senior journalist with two decades of experience with various national English-language dailies, including the Indian Express, the Times of India, the Hindustan Times and Deccan Chronicle.
courtesy The Caravan