Stir on hold as farmer killed in police action | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Stir on hold as farmer killed in police action

BySunil Rahar, , Shambhu/rohtak/new Delhi
Feb 22, 2024 05:56 AM IST

Farm leaders paused protests for two days after clashes at Punjab-Haryana border led to a protester's death.

Farm leaders on Wednesday paused their protests for two days after tensions building up over the past nine days boiled over into clashes between thousands of protesters and the police at the Punjab-Haryana border, leading to the death of a 21-year-old man at the Khanauri border.

A tear gas shell fired by police explodes near the Shambhu border on Wednesday. (PTI)
A tear gas shell fired by police explodes near the Shambhu border on Wednesday. (PTI)

The farmer, identified by hospital officials as Bathinda resident Shubh Karan Singh, died of injuries from what officials described as a “bullet”, without clarifying if it was a rubber bullet or a normal bullet. The death – the first such casualty due to direct police action across the 2020-21 farm stir and the ongoing agitation – was confirmed by a local hospital, Punjab government, and farm groups.

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“We have decided to put our march to Delhi on hold till Friday (February 23) because a large number of farmers have been injured in police action and one farmer has been killed. There are issues of cremation, treatment and compensation etc. That’s why we have decided to stall the march to Delhi till Friday,” said Sarwan Singh Pandher, coordinator of the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha

Doctors at Rajindra Hospital, where the deceased was rushed to, said that a post mortem examination will be conducted on Thursday, after which it will be ascertained if it was a rubber bullet or a normal bullet.

At least 100 others were injured in the violence on Wednesday, said police and farm leaders. Police in Haryana, too, said 12 security personnel were injured due to stone-pelting and chilly-laced stubble being hurled at them.

Pandher said that protest leaders will discuss future action and until then, all farmers will remain camped at the borders. He, however, warned that the death is likely to trigger an escalation and scupper future talks between the farmers and government.

In the evening, Punjab chief minister Bhagwant Mann confirmed the death and said that his state will file a first information report, or FIR, against the Haryana Police.

“After postmortem, a case will be registered. Those officials responsible for his death will have to face stringent action,” said Mann in a video message this evening.

Haryana Police defended itself, blaming the farmers for escalating violence by attacking personnel with sticks and maces.

Thousands of farmers have been camped at the Punjab-Haryana border since last week, demanding a law on minimum support prices (MSP) for 23 crops and other pro-cultivator measures. But four rounds of talks gave way to violence on Wednesday, leading to the deadliest clashes since the stir was first announced on February 13.

At least two Punjab-Haryana border points – Khanauri and Shambhu – were the epicentre of the clashes as police personnel dozens of fired tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons to scatter the farmers trying to march to Delhi, days after they rejected a government offer on prices for their produce, prompting an offer of fresh talks.

Videos of the violence on social media showed tear gas shells exploding and protesters running for cover in the ensuing mayhem. Ramandeep Singh Mann, a key member of the farmers’ negotiating team, said that there was “very aggressive crackdown on farmers”.

“We received word about invitation for fifth round of talks between 11am-12 pm. We had almost decided to go ahead with a fifth round of discussions when we received news about heavy shelling and the death of a farmer. Now of course things have changed,” he said.

Shubh Karan Singh, a resident of Balloch village of Bathinda district in Punjab, had left his house on February 13 to join the “Delhi Chalo” protesters. Singh was the youngest of a group of 15 men from his village who joined the protests, according to his relatives. “His father is mentally unwell while he lost his mother 4-5 years ago. He was also the only son and the bread earner,” his cousin Gurpreet Singh said.

“He was brought dead, and on initial examination it appears that he was hit by a bullet. We will be able to ascertain the nature of the bullet only after a post-mortem,” said HS Rekhi, medical superintendent of Patiala-based Rajindra Hospital. He said the two other people who were brought wounded to the hospital were stable.

Farm leaders at Khanauri, which saw the worst of the clashes, said that at least 100 protesters were wounded in the clashes on Wednesday, with four sustaining grievous injuries.

“The police action happened when our farmers were peacefully trying to cross over into Haryana. We will meet tonight once and tomorrow morning again to decide on future course of action and strategy. It will be a collective decision. We had almost decided to go ahead with a fifth round of talks because we want dialogue,” Pandher said,

“Nearly 100 farmers injured in heavy shelling at Shambu border. Our focus right now is their treatment. I cannot comment on the government’s invitation.”

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Haryana police, on the other hand, appealed for peace and said that protesters used force, while stressing that police personnel were trying to exercise restraint despite being “attacked using sticks and maces”.

“The protesters at Datta Singh Wala-Khanauri border surrounded police personnel from all sides and burned stubble by pouring chilli powder in it, attacked the policemen using sticks and maces along and also pelted stones. About 12 policemen were seriously injured. We appeal to the protesters for peace,” additional inspector general (administration), Manisha Chaudhary in a statement.

BKU (non-political) leader Jagjit Singh Dallewal, who is leading the protest, said that the decision to hold more meetings with Union ministers would be taken only after assessing the situation at Khanauri.

“If a farmer dies due to police action, we will not hold any meeting with Union ministers,” Dallewal said after an hour-long meeting with officials of the Punjab government in the afternoon.

During the 2020-21 protests, which resulted in the scrapping of three contentious farm laws, no person was confirmed to have been killed in police action. One person was initially reported killed when farmers stormed the Red Fort on Republic Day 2021, but later reports confirmed that he died after his tractor hit a barricade and overturned.

Meanwhile, a Haryana police sub-inspector, Vijay Kumar, who was posted at the Tohana border, died of illness after his health “suddenly deteriorated” while on duty, police officials said.

The situation in Delhi, meanwhile, largely remained peaceful with reports of heavy vehicular traffic at the national Capital’s border with Gurugram through most of the day. Delhi’s border points with Noida-Ghaziabad also witnessed heavy traffic in the first half of the day due to increased police checking and barricading to prevent protesting farmers from entering Delhi.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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    Zia Haq reports on public policy, economy and agriculture. Particularly interested in development economics and growth theories.

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