Updated: October 13, 2021 8:23:46 am
At Tikonia in Lakhimpur Kheri, thousands gathered on Tuesday to pay their last respects to four farmers and a journalist who died on October 3 after a convoy of cars, one owned by Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra, ploughed through a group of protesting farmers. People, a majority of them Sikhs, came to attend the “antim ardas [final prayers]” for the five men from different districts of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, and Haryana.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), which is leading the protest against three Central agrarian laws since last year, had announced the day before that a “Shaheed Kisan Diwas [Martyred Farmers’ Day]” would be observed on Tuesday.
Prominent leaders such as Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) national spokesperson Rakesh Tikait, and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) chief Jayant Chaudhary also attended the prayer ceremony and paid their respects to the five.
Priyanka did not speak on stage as it was announced that politicians could only pay their respects and would not be allowed to address the gathering. The farmer leaders thanked her and the other politicians for sharing their grief and standing by the families of the victims. On the stage, Priyanka bowed to pay respects to the victims, and then sat among the Congress workers and leaders in the crowd. She was accompanied by state Congress chief Ajay Kumar Lallu and other senior leaders. Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav also attended the prayer meeting.
BKU leader Rakesh Tikait told The Indian Express at the venue, “Our movement will continue. Our movement and protests are ongoing for the last 11 months. We are ready for a long movement till the Union Minister of State is removed. The arrest of Ashish Mishra is political. He has been given a red carpet. Till his father is removed from his post, our protests will go on along with the other protest for the withdrawal of three farm laws. Till his father is removed, the police can’t ensure a fair probe.”
Asked about the farmers’ October 4 agreement with the Uttar Pradesh government to call off the protest in Tikunia, he said, “Our agreement was with UP government. They have said that what they promised they have fulfilled. Now, they are saying the rest is up to the Union government. The agreement happened in presence of all senior farmer leaders.” Tikait was the only leader who was allowed to address the gathering from the stage. In his 20-minute address, the BKU leader said, “Everyone has seen what happened. The videos became public late because the internet was shut here..If those videos had not become public, farmers would have been depicted as guilty.”
Taking aim at Ajay Mishra, he said, “People have left this area due to fear. He [MoS] is feared by everyone. I met people who were injured. They said their identity should not come out and that they don’t want money. This is the kind of terror here. This movement will continue till the minister resigns, till the minister is sent to jail. He must be sent to Agra jail. He should be remanded by the police. Then, both father and son will tell who are the others in their gang.”
Tikait said more than 20 people were injured in the violence but they do not want their identities revealed “due to fear”. He added, “On October 15, effigies will be burnt. It will be decided how to go about it. On October 18, trains will be jammed. The government will continue to level allegations against farmers. We have to keep ourselves safe from them…”
Like Priyanka, Jayant Chaudhary too did not address the gathering but paid respects to the victims. At the venue, the RLD chief said farmers were in majority in the state and the country. He added, “Our country’s majority is farmers. Farmers who have died have given a huge sacrifice. Other farmers won’t forget this. We will keep reminding the name of the four farmers who have died and their sacrifice won’t go waste.”
The farmers who attended the prayer ceremony had two demands — the removal of Union MoS Ajay Mishra, and his arrest. Mishra’s son Ashish has been arrested in connection with the mowing down of the five men. Several farmer leaders who spoke on stage repeated these demands, and also pointed out that Ajay Mishra, in a speech here on September 25, had talked about “fixing the farm protesters within minutes”.
“This is the language of a minister in the Union government. Peaceful protesters are being trampled on and killed by the son of the minister. The whole incident was a conspiracy between the father and the son. The father should also be arrested,” said farmer Mukhtyar Singh (51) from Lakhimpur Kheri’s Palia village who attended the event with four family members.
The prayer meeting was held at a farmland in Tikonia, around a kilometre from where the violence occurred on October 3. Two massive tents were erected and elaborate arrangements were made to ensure a peaceful ceremony. Water bottles, biscuits and food were distributed to those who attended the event.
A host of volunteers ensured that people don’t hover around the stage, where family members sat in front of the photographs of the five victims. The “asthi kalash [last remains]” of the five were kept on the stage.
Latbeer Singh (47) from Amritsar, Punjab, said the issue at stake was the rights of farmers. “The farmers who gathered at Tikonia on October 3 merely wanted to show black flags to the minister and deputy CM Keshav Prasad Maurya. This killing is similar to the Jalianwala Bagh massacre. We will only rest after the minister is removed and arrested,” he added.
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