Why is the UP gov’t looking for tractor owning farmers, issuing notices to activists?

Gandhian activist dubbed "gunda" for supporting farmers' movement

Veteran human rights defender Ramjanam who lives in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, has been asked by the authorities to appear in court on January 15. A notice was sent to his village home when he was away, participating in the farmer’s protest at Shahjahanpur near Delhi. The notice invokes the ‘Gunda Act’ and demands that he appear in a Varanasi court and explain himself, rather his activism, and his solidarity towards the farmers protesting against the farm laws. Ramjanam recently returned to Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh after he spent over a week in solidarity with the farmers’ protest on the Delhi border. His family handed the notice to him on his return. 

“I thought it was something related to the protests I participated in during the anti-CAA-NRC-NPR movements of 2019-2020, as they had made multiple charges against me and other activists then. I had spent 16 days in detention also. So when I got back to my village outside Varanasi city and my family gave the notice to me I just kept it in my pocket. When I came back to the city yesterday, I saw it and realised it was a summons under the Gunda Act…” he told SabrangIndia over the phone on Wednesday. Ramjanam was issued the notice under the Gunda Act by the Additional District Magistrate Administration and has been asked to appear in court and give a written explanation on January 15.

Ramjanam is perhaps the first activist to have got such summons from the Uttar Pradesh government, for standing in solidarity with the dissenting farmers of India. He is a long time senior associate of Swaraj Abhiyan/ Swaraj India and a national committee member, and is well known in the area, however, all that has marked him out as a ‘gunda’ or miscreant for the government it appears. “I am a Gandhian. Ahimsa is my path,” he said reacting to the notice which is usually reserved for those accused of known criminal activities or with running ‘gangs’ etc.  

He says he will appear in court as asked on January 15, and answer any questions asked, but he is not going to be cowed down by such summons and will continue to support farmers. “I was in jail for 16 days during the anti-CAA movement in Varanasi,” he recalled. His extended family had received the ‘Gunda Act’ notice in his absence, just like the families of other farmer leaders, and farmers who too have now been receiving calls and visits from the authorities wanting details of their movements. Though no one else has got such a notice apart from Ramjanam and his nephew, who is a university student in social work, and had been studying the farmer revolution. 

A basic internet search will explain the Gunda Act, or as it is formerly known, the Uttar Pradesh Gunda Niyantran Adhiniyam, 1970 Act 8 of 1971. It defines a ‘gunda’ as someone who has a known criminal background, or has a reputation of being dangerous to society, and is basically a law breaker and a trouble maker.  A district magistrate has the power to order a ‘gunda’ to either leave a jurisdiction, or report his movements regularly, reportedly for periods of up to six months. A detailed explainer of the Act as reported earlier, may be read here

Now, as the farmer’s movement is peaking on the borders of Delhi, and is now getting support from farmers from across the country, especially Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and of course Punjab, certain state governments are reported to be on ‘alert’. State administrations run by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its associates have allegedly begun to keep an eye on farmer leaders, as well as civil activists.  Farmers from across the country have begun preparations to take part in a ‘tractor march’ along KMP highway on January 7 . Farmers riding tractors will head towards the highway from the Kundli border and Tikri border. Similarly, people at the Ghazipur border and Rewasan will head towards Palwal. Activist Yogendra Yadav said that the march should be considered a “dress rehearsal” for January 26, a small example of what is to come on Republic Day.

The Uttar Pradesh authorities have reportedly begun attempts to minimise participation from the state. It is reported that officials have been ‘visiting’ homes of farmer leaders, and even smaller scale farmers and farm workers asking them what their plans are. According to sources, some farmers have been directly asked if they support the protest on Delhi’s borders. Farmers are also being asked if they know anyone else who is supporting the protest movement. And it has been reported in the local media that a list of farmers who own tractors is also being made by the state administration. If the farmer is not home, the family is quizzed. The idea it appears is to intimidate the farmer community, so they do not travel to the Delhi border to add more strength to the movement. 

Civil rights activists have been easier to find for the state government which has been tracking them since the anti-CAA-NRC-NPR movement began in December 2019. Those lists are already ready, and some activists are being asked questions about their stand on the farmers movement that reached Delhi well over a month ago. Hence the notice to Ramjanam may be the first of many.

A delegation of People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) will now go and meet Varanasi Divisional Commissioner Deepak Aggarwal to demand that the notice issued to Ramjanam be withdrawn. According to activists, the police are repeatedly going and making various inquiries, they have also begun calling activists on the phone. Activists Kripa Verma, and Fazlur Rahman Ansari have already fielded such questions.

On Tuesday, January 5, representatives of various social organizations gathered in solidarity with the farmers movement, and condemned the punitive action by the local police. They have requested to withdraw the notice given to Ram Janam, and not to give such notices to human rights defenders. The meeting was presided over by professor Mahesh Vikram Singh, who had taught at the Mahatma Gandhi Kashi Vidyapeeth, and was attended by activists  Sunil Sahasrabuddhe, Vijay Narayan, Muniza Khan, Praval Kumar Singh, Kripa Verma, Chitra Sahasrabuddhe, Manish Sharma, Ramjanam, Fazlur Rahman Ansari, Laxman Prasad (of BKU), Mohammad Alim, Mohammad Ahmed, Satish Singh Vallabhacharya Pandey and others

According to a report in the Amar Ujala, UP’s intelligence agencies are on alert as the farmers’ protests are expected to intensify. Farmers who own tractors are being identified, and monitoring  to ensure that these tractors are not used to go join in the larger movement towards the Delhi border. The news report added that extra caution and vigilance was being deployed in western Uttar Pradesh, especially in the districts of Meerut and Bareilly zones. After sending DIG or higher level officers in 17 districts, such farmers are being watched carefully. By extension an eye is also being kept on civil rights activists, groups, and organizations which are supporting the farmers’ movement.


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