Farmers’ ire against the Haryana administration has reached new heights following the death of farmer Sushil Kajal, who was fatally injured during the brutal lathi charge attack on a peaceful protest by farmers in Karnal.
On August 28, 2021, Kajal reached Bastara toll plaza near Karnal city to protest outside a nearby event attended by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. However, unbeknownst to the 55-year-old, Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Ayush Sinha – whose job is to serve the people – allegedly ordered local police to “split open the heads” of any protester who tries to cross barricades.
The Garota farmer suffered severe blows, and finally died due to a heart attack later that night. He was cremated the following morning at 11 AM without a post mortem.
“The completely illegal and atrocious orders of Sinha to “break the heads” of protestors are condemnable and bring disgrace and shame to our democracy. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi was doing a Jallianwala Bagh virtual rally, the Jallianwala Bagh unleashed in Karnal is doubly shameful,” said the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) in a press release.
In Amritsar, farmers were lathicharged while protesting the PM’s virtual speech in an inauguration of a modernisation of Jallianwala Bagh. Thousands of youths wished to visit the Jallianwala Bagh massacre site, but they were stopped by the police.
Enraged by these incidents, the SKM demanded the immediate dismissal of Sinha, whose alleged order for attack on farmers was recorded in a viral social media video. Moreover, the incident caused chain-reaction protests in other parts of Haryana when farmers blocked highways jam in several places like Kurukshetra, Ambala, Jind, Rewari, Narvana, Fatehabad, Sirsa, Kitlana toll, Gohana, Rohtak and Bhiwani.
Sinha’s orders an abuse of SDM rights
Under the law, the SDM is responsible for the maintenance of law and order within the limits of his local jurisdiction. He has the right to order the use of force. However, such force is to be used only against an unruly mob while following model rules of the Procedure for Crowd Control.
However, as per a letter sent by the farmers’ legal cell to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Sinha disregarded such procedure.
“In the video he is seen standing in front of several policemen while directing them that no farmer should cross the barricade and if anyone does, then ‘unka sar fod dena’ (break their heads),” said the letter.
Farmers also intend to send a representation to the Punjab and Haryana High Court. In it, Advocate Ajitpal Singh Mander said that Sinha claimed that he told officials to “use force proportionately.” Still, having seen the video, farmers in the region have voiced their anger against the SDM.
Among other duties, the SDM also receives complaints and grievances from people. After making this move, Karnal farmers’ faith in the administration was deeply affected. His action also infringed upon farmers’ fundamental right to peacefully protest as recognised by the Supreme Court.
Farmers compared it to the Jallianwala Bagh incident when General R.EH Dyer surrounded the Bagh with his soldiers and ordered the army to shoot at the crowd, continuing to fire even as protestors tried to flee.
“After years history repeats itself, but the matter of shame is that this time a public servant specially trained to serve the public act like General Dyer. Ayush Sinha ordered his police officials to inflict “Head injuries” upon peaceful protesters,” said Advocate Hakam Singh.
Condemning the incident but assuring that those injured were slowly recovering, Advocate Vasu Kukreja told SabrangIndia, “It is the clear death of democracy.”
Meanwhile, Khattar defended the police action, stating that farmers did not protest peacefully but “obstructed official work.”
Farmers groups, activists demand action
The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) on August 29 requested the Supreme Court to take suo motu cognisance of the attack and punish all those guilty, including the political leaders who were responsible.
“He [Kajal] was a regular participant in this farmers’ struggle right from the beginning. Sushil Kajal became a victim of the bloodthirsty BJP-JJP state government, which has waged a war on its own people by lodging false police cases on nearly 40,000 farmers, including two cases of sedition,” said AIKS General Secretary Hannan Mollah.
Similarly, RTI activist Saket Gokhale, on August 30, filed an RTI report asking whether the Karnal Commissioner had taken action against Sinha.