A video showing a top district official in Haryana asking policemen to ensure farmers who are protesting against BJP leaders get "head injuries" has surfaced on social media, drawing criticism from a wide section of people including BJP MP Varun Gandhi.
Some 10 people were injured Saturday after the state police lathi-charged a group of farmers who had stopped traffic on a highway while heading towards Haryana's Karnal to protest against a BJP meeting, where Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar, state BJP chief Om Prakash Dhankar and other senior leaders were present.
In the video, Karnal's Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Ayush Sinha is seen standing in front of a group of policemen and instructing them that no protesting farmer should go beyond a certain barricade in the area.
"It is very simple and clear, whoever he is, wherever he is from, no one should be allowed to reach there. We will not let this line be breached at any cost. Just pick up your lathi and hit them hard... It's very clear, there is no need for any instruction, just thrash them hard. If I see a single protester here, I want to see his head smashed, crack their heads," Mr Sinha is heard saying in the video.
"Any doubt?" the SDM added in the end.
"No sir," the group of policemen shouted.
On hearing about the police action in Karnal, farmers in other districts also came out in large numbers and blocked highways in solidarity. This led to huge traffic jams on key highways connecting cities like Delhi and Chandigarh.
The police said only mild force was used as the protesters were blocking the highway and stopping traffic.
"Stone-pelting had started at many places... It was said during the briefing to use force proportionately," Mr Sinha told news agency ANI.
"I hope this video is edited and the DM did not say this... Otherwise, this is unacceptable in democratic India to do to our own citizens," BJP's Varun Gandhi tweeted.
I hope this video is edited and the DM did not say this... Otherwise, this is unacceptable in democratic India to do to our own citizens. pic.twitter.com/rWRFSD2FRH— Varun Gandhi (@varungandhi80) August 28, 2021
Strongly condemning the action, senior leader Randeep Singh Surjewala tweeted, "Khattar Sahab, today you have rained lathis on Haryanvis' soul... coming generations will remember the blood of farmers which has been spilled on the roads."
Swaraj India chief and a key leader of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha or SKM, Yogendra Yadav, said the police action "exposed the true face of the Haryana Police". "They (farmers) were protesting against the visit of CM Khattar and other BJP leaders to Karnal. This is the true face of Haryana police," Mr Yadav tweeted.
The SKM - the umbrella body under which many farmer groups have united to protest the farm laws - slammed the police for their "brutal" actions.
Protests by farmers on major roads and highways - including the protest by thousands of farmers camped out around the Delhi border for nine months now - have been criticised for affecting vehicular traffic. They want the centre to withdraw three controversial farm laws.