Ram Lal left Lakhimpur Kheri, a district in Uttar Pradesh on the border with Nepal, on April 27, 2014. Two weeks before he left the village, the 48-year-old attended a ‘kafila’ organised in the village. He was asked to join a “national movement”. The movement was to begin from the heart of the national capital, Jantar Mantar.
He joined hundreds of others, who were camping at Jawahar Bagh, Mathura, since March 14 — waiting to begin their “national struggle”.
“Sharirik azaadi to mil gayi, magar aarthik azaadi nahi mili. Aarthik azaadi ko paane ke liye hum nikal padey (we are yet to get economic freedom. This is a fight for economic freedom. That is why I left the village,” said Ram Lal, among hundreds of men and women who left their villages to “fight for economic freedom” and joined the Swadheen Bharat Subhash Sena (SBSS) led by Ram Vriksh Yadav.
“Humey toh Jantar Mantar jaana thha, magar permission nehin mili to ruk gaye Mathura mein (We were supposed to go hold protest at Jantar Mantar, but we didn’t receive permission and thus stayed back in Mathura),” Lal said.
What was to be a short stay at Mathura, which began on March 14, 2014, went on for more than two years – eventually leading to Thursday’s police action to evict them, which turned violent and led to the death of 24 people, including two policemen. These two years also saw Jawahar Bagh transform into a kingdom of its own — with over 2,000 ‘residents’, a hospital, a school, streetlights with electricity back-up and kaccha and pucca houses. To guard the entire 270-acre land, a dozen chowkis guard the area round the clock.
Laxmi Singh, a neighbour of the “satyagrahis” for these two years, said: “It was a civilisation in isolation — they didn’t talk to the villagers, they had their regular training programme. Children were trained in morning and evening. Trucks loaded with food and grains were transported. Luxurious cars stood inside the nursery. We only wondered where all the money came from.”
Things, however, changed some three months ago at Jawahar Bagh. The protesters tried to woo the local residents by setting up markets offering sugar and vegetables at cheaper rates. However, this didn’t work with the locals. “They offered us sugar at Rs 25 per kg. Similarly, vegetables were offered at discounted prices. A special market was set up. But we were not wooed by this. We always wanted them evicted,” Laxmi Singh said.
Lal said children’s training was the main focus at the park. They were not only given English education by two specially recruited teachers but were given special physical training, he said. “The physical training took place in the evenings. They were trained in several ways,” Lal said.
AT GROUND ZERO
4:30 pm: Police, administration hold meeting to conduct recce of Jawahar Bagh. A 48-hour ultimatum had earlier been given to satyagrahis to move out. Sources say recce was to be done on June 4, when a safe exit plan for the final eviction was to take place. At the meeting, it is decided that the June 4 plan is to be implemented on June 2.
4:45 pm: A JCB is brought to the rear exit of the nursery. The wall is demolished by police as a planned exit point to evict the satyagrahis.
5 pm: Police and PAC deployed near the boundary wall
5:10 pm: Mathura and Agra roads are blocked. Entry and exit points sealed.
5:15 pm: The DM and SP (city) arrive at the main entry to hold talks with the group. The SP is accompanied by 8-10 officers.
5:25 pm: From treetops, satyagrahis fire at police. Another group starts hurling stones. Firing continues for seven minutes. Police claim that until this point, they had not fired as per SP’s order.
5:40 pm: 2 bullets hit SHO Santosh Yadav. Police start retaliating.
5:50 pm: 2 bullets hit SP Mukul Dwivedi. Personnel accompanying him also attacked.
6 pm: SP, SHO rushed to hospital.
6:30 pm: Satyagrahis start using hand grenades. Set their houses on fire.
6:45 pm: Satyagrahis begin to blast LPG cylinders; trigger over a dozen explosions.
6:50 pm: Protesters make announcement through speakers, ask police to stop firing. Police confirms SHO’s death.
7 pm: The operation is over. Police claim at least 30 men surrendered. Fire is brought under control.
7:30 pm: District magistrate comes out of Jawahar Bagh, apprises CM of the operation.
Midnight: Search operation inside nursery on. Top cops, including DGP, arrive in Mathura.
FRIDAY 9 am: Police confirm 124 arrests.
10:00 am: Police confirm death of 22 satyagrahis. Claim 11 died due to cylinder blasts.