A DAY after five farmers were killed in police firing, tension prevailed in Mandsaur and the adjoining district of Neemuch as protesters defied curfew and indulged in arson and violence on Wednesday. The protests spread to the rest of the state, with crowds of people blocking road and rail traffic.
Nearly two dozen vehicles were set on fire over the last 24 hours on the stretch between Mandsaur and Pipliya Mandi. All the five farmers who were killed in two separate incidents of firing near the Pipliya Mandi police station on Tuesday were from this area, which has become the epicentre of the violent protests.
While six deaths were reported earlier, district officials said on Wednesday that one death was not related to the protests. The farmers are demanding better prices for their produce and waiver of loans.
The road connecting Mandsaur and Neemuch remained out of bounds for most part of the day with protesters torching more vehicles and a warehouse. At Barkhenda Pant village, Mandsaur Collector Swatantra Kumar Singh was heckled by relatives of one of the farmers who died and other villagers.
Singh had gone to the spot to ask the protesters to clear the road and take the farmer’s body for cremation. The protesters demanded immediate action against police officials involved in the firing. Singh and Superintendent of Police O P Tripathi had to beat a hasty retreat after they were heckled.
While there were unconfirmed reports that Singh was hit on the head, he played down the incident and said he was not manhandled. He claimed that anti-social elements had taken over the protests.
While the district administration claimed that enough security personnel had been deployed in the area, bike-borne protesters roamed freely on the streets, warning government officials and policemen not to venture beyond a toll booth located between Mandsaur and Pipliya Mandi.
While those on motorcycles relayed information about the movement of security personnel, others on foot pelted stones at CRPF, RPF and police personnel, who fired teargas shells to disperse the crowd.
“We decided to abandon the toll booth after protesters damaged it and looked set to burn the ambulance parked next to it,’’ said a paramedical staff. He said the injured had been shifted to Mandsaur hospital.
“Why would we not be angry? While the prices of produce continue to crash, the wages of labourers have not reduced. We end up incurring losses. All protesters are genuine farmers… their anger has reached a boiling point,’’ said two masked protesters, who refused to identify themselves or their village.
Meanwhile, the families of the other four farmers who were killed agreed to carry out their last rites on Wednesday. The Madhya Pradesh Patidar Samaj had claimed on Tuesday that the cremations would not take place until Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan made an appearance. Late on Tuesday, Chouhan increased the compensation from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 1 crore and a job to the next of kin of each dead.
The bandh called by the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh (RKMS), a group formed by a former RSS worker, and Congress received a mixed response on Wednesday. At Dewas, protesters stopped two trains and set a chartered bus on fire near Sonkutch. A petrol pump was torched at Suvasara.
In Delhi, the Ministry of Home Affairs said it had sent 1,100 anti-riots police personnel to Mandsaur. The Centre has also sought a detailed report on the violence on Tuesday. About 600 personnel of the Rapid Action Force have already reached Mandsaur, said a Home Ministry official, adding that another 500 RAF personnel are being sent.