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Cost of stir: Charges of sedition, attempt to murder against farmers

Farmer leaders estimate that FIRs have been lodged against 48,000 farmers during the agitation in Haryana. A senior police officer told The Indian Express that around 200 FIRs have been lodged.

Written by Sukhbir Siwach | Chandigarh |
December 9, 2021 7:25:58 am
Most of the cases pertaining to breaking of barricades and confrontation with the police during protests against the leaders of ruling BJP-JJP alliance as the farmers had announced their “social boycott” over the issue of three farm laws. (Representational)

A young farmer, who became one of the enduring images of the farmers’ agitation after he climbed atop a water cannon and changed its direction before jumping onto a tractor-trolley during police action against protesters in Haryana last year, has been named in 14 FIRs, including one where he is changed with attempt to murder.

Bhartiya Kisan Union (Chaduni) President Gurnam Singh Chaduni says he has at least 42 FIRs lodged against him.

The two are not an aberration. Thousands of farmers in Haryana have been booked for several “criminal offences”, ranging from sedition to attempt to murder, during the course of the year long agitation against the three contentious farm laws – which now stand repealed – that began from Kurukshetra’s Pipli town on September 10, 2020.

Farmer leaders estimate that FIRs have been lodged against 48,000 farmers during the agitation in Haryana. A senior police officer told The Indian Express that around 200 FIRs have been lodged.

An FIR was lodged against “10,000/12,000 unknown persons” in Dabwali police station of Sirsa district on November 27, 2020 when thousands of farmers were moving to Delhi via Haryana. These farmers were booked under sections 147 (rioting), 149 (unlawful assembly), 332 (voluntarily causing hurt to deter public servant from his duty), 353 (assault or criminal force to deter public servant from discharge of his duty), 186 (obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions), 427 (causing damage) of the IPC, Epidemic Act and the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act.

On the same day, under almost similar charges, another FIR was lodged against “thousands of unknown persons” in Fatehabad district.

In the column of accused, in several FIRs, the police mentioned “a lot of unknown crowd”, “innumerable unknown person”, “some unknown person, number not confirm”, “40/50 unknown person, number not confirm and 2/3 unknown girl”, “4 unknown Nihang Sikh”, and “400-500 unknown persons”.

Most of the cases pertaining to breaking of barricades and confrontation with the police during protests against the leaders of ruling BJP-JJP alliance as the farmers had announced their “social boycott” over the issue of three farm laws. Since the beginning, the farmers have been insisting that the cases were lodged against them to “suppress” their agitation while the authorities say they took the action as per the law.

A farmer activist Navdeep Singh Jalbera (27), who had shot to limelight for shutting the water cannon in Ambala on November 25, 2020, says: “I believe, the police have lodged 14 FIRs, including 4-5 under the charges of attempt to murder, against me during the agitation. Other charges include blocking of road, threat to an MLA and assault on an SHO. Several cases were lodged against my father Jai Singh Jalbera also. The cases were lodged against my younger brother and uncle too.”

Apart from Jalberas, Chaduni too was booked under attempt to murder charge. The police accused them of attempting to run over policemen with a speeding tractor-trolley by breaking the police barricading.

Jai Singh Jalbera was named in a murder case too during the farmer agitation. This case was lodged in connection with the death of a 72-year-old participant of BJP’s tractor rally at Naraingarh of Ambala district which was held to garner support in favour of the farm laws. The farmers had staged a protest against the BJP rally. Navdeep says the murder charges were later dropped after farmers had taken strong exception to the FIR terming it as an attempt to supress their voice.

Chaduni doesn’t know exactly how many FIRs have been lodged against him till now. He says: “I am sure about 42 FIRs against me.” Chaduni has remained a central figure of the agitation in Haryana. Following Chaduni’s 1.31minute-long video message, the farmers had not allowed landing of Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar’s helicopter in Kaimla village on January 10 this year despite deployment of around 1,500 policemen and use of water cannons, tear gas and mild lathicharge. Then, the police had lodged an FIR against Chaduni and 70 others for “creating disturbance in the event” apart from several other charges. Few FIRs were registered against him when he called the farmers to burn the effigy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as part of the agitation.

However, the BJP-JJP government in Haryana had faced a lot of criticism from the Opposition when the police booked nearly 100 farmers under sedition charges for a protest against Vidhan Sabha Deputy Speaker Ranbir Singh Gangwa in Sirsa on July 11 when some stones were also thrown towards his car. The farmers had alleged they had no role in the stone pelting, alleging their opponents might have planted elements to defame the agitation.

The Sessions Court, Sirsa, while releasing five farmers who were arrested by Sirsa police under sedition charges for allegedly attacking the convoy of Gangwa, had stated that “at the most offence under Section 308 IPC (attempt to commit culpable homicide) is attracted in the present case” adding “commission of offence of sedition under Section 124-A IPC in the present case is doubtful”. Another FIR under sedition charge was lodged against a person Sunil Gulia in Bahadurgarh Police Station of Jhajjar district for “uploading a video on social media in which he allegedly vowed that if the government did not pay heed to the protesting farmers, he would attack the Government with cannon.”

Now, when the negotiations have reached the final stage, the agitators want withdrawal of all FIRs before ending the agitation. “Later, there may be several excuses for not withdrawing the cases, like a challan has already been filed before the court or this case doesn’t belong to the farmer agitation,” said a farmer leader.

A prominent member of Samyukt Kisan Morcha, Yogendra Yadav said: “The farmers want to be doubly sure on this issue because of bad experiences over agitation related cases during this government and previous governments.”

Now, with farmer unions demanding withdrawal of cases lodged against them, Khattar had recently stated that the issue will be taken up when the matter reaches the final stage. He had stated: “Jab ye sara vishy finality ki aur jayega aur kender sarkar kya kahegi, us samay dekhenge. (This matter will be taken up when the entire issue will reach the final stage and after we see what the Centre has to say).”

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