A young Jat protester holds his sword to the neck of an HT photographer, asking him to put his camera away or face the wrath of the 100-or-so men who have ringed him.
“We don’t want media here. You better not use your camera. You people have maligned our image,” the man tells Arun Sharma on Sunday afternoon, his tone getting nastier with every word.
It is less than 50 kilometers from the Capital but the administration and police are conspicuous only by their absence as thousands of protesters demanding quotas in jobs and education run riot.
Delhi Police barricades stop vehicles from the city from entering Haryana – around 200 trucks wait on one side of the highway.
On the other side, the highway is deserted with smashed cars, vandalised shopping malls and locked establishments lining either side. It is Sunday morning.
On reaching Kumaspur – 34 kilometres from Delhi – the HT team is accosted by 5,000 Jat youth wielding swords, sickles, iron rods and sticks who’re blocking the highway.
They realise that we – the reporter and Sharma -- are from the media and protesters gather around, forcing us to turn back.
“We are being polite to you. If you continue clicking pictures, you will lose your camera and other belongings. It is better you leave,” they warn.
There is no sign of police but every 500 metres, protesters block the road with containers, wood logs, and electricity poles. On almost all such stoppages, people plead to let them pass.
Hundreds of passengers walk on the highway carrying their luggage, many hounded by angry mobs.
A group of stranded passengers get into an autorickshaw, hoping they will cover some distance in the vehicle.
Protesters spot them and force them out. “Walk. It is good for health,” one of them tells the passengers.
The situation dramatically changes on Monday. In Haryana’s Jhajjar, hundreds of army personnel secure the town and meet village heads to find a way out of the violent protests. A bus stand and several shops have been gutted by rampaging protesters.
“The first thing they looted was an alcohol shop. They then went to the State Bank of India, looted it and then to a clothes store next door. They ransacked the place, wore whatever they want and then burnt down the store,” Sharma says.