Farmers Block Highways To Protest "Brutal" Police Action In Haryana

The farmers are protesting a lathi charge in Haryana's Karnal; farmers there were charged down by police as they tried to stop state BJP chief OP Dhankar's convoy

The farmers' protests blocked cars and other vehicles for a three-km stretch along the highway

Chandigarh:

Angry farmers blocked multiple roads across Haryana Saturday afternoon to protest "brutal" police action against fellow farmers in neighbouring Karnal district, as they were protesting a meeting led by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar to discuss a forthcoming municipal election. 

Later in the day there was a second lathi charge - this time on farmers in Amritsar who were agitating against Prime Minister Modi's virtual inauguration of a renovated Jallianwala Bagh memorial.

A controversial video of a civil officer in Karnal telling policemen to "crack the heads" of farmers also drew criticism.

The protests affected traffic on major roads and highways, including the Delhi-Chandigarh highway. The highway was opened to traffic only late in the evening after seven farmers detained for the protest were freed.

Visuals showed farmers sitting on khatiyas, or a bamboo bed, and standing, or sitting, in large groups across the road, with cars, buses and trucks backed up for at least three kilometres.

Other visuals showed two policemen in riot gear arguing with a man who seems to be badly wounded; there is blood on his shirt and his left leg, and a bloody bandage is tied around his head.

A third video showed a large contingent of riot police gathered on the highway.

The farmers were protesting a lathi charge on farmers in Karnal; the farmers there were charged down by the police after they tried to stop state BJP chief OP Dhankar's convoy.

Mr Dhankar was going to the state-level meet of BJP leaders and elected reps in Karnal. As his convoy exited the Bastara toll plaza (between Karnal and Panipat), farmers allegedly hit the cars with sticks. Reports said the farmers tried to reach that meeting, which was being held about 30 kilometres away.

The police responded with a lathi charge that left several farmers injured; videos that circulated on social media showed many people with bloody shirts and bandages.

According to news agency PTI at least 10 people were injured. 

"Many farmers were injured after police brutally lathi charged them without provocation. Some could be seen with blood all over their clothes," Haryana Bhartiya Kisan Union (Chaduni) chief Gurnam Singh Chaduni was quoted by PTI.

The police, however, said only mild force was used as protesters were affecting traffic.

The Samyukt Kisan Morcha - the umbrella body under which many farmer groups have united to protest the farm laws - slammed the police for their "brutal" actions.

The opposition Congress has slammed the ruling BJP government in Haryana.

Congress MP Rahul Gandhi tweeted about the "shameful" violence.

"What happened to our farmers in Karnal is a matter of great concern... the Congress party condemns this attack in the strongest possible language. What you saw today was evidence of the BJP's disregard for farmers and their safety..." Kumari Selja, chief of the party's state unit, said.

Ms Selja referred to a video that has been shared widely, in which Ayush Sinha, the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) of Karnal, can be heard telling police to "break their (the farmers) head".

"The Congress has always, and will always, support our farmers, who were never mistreated when we were in power. Now the SDM is telling police to 'break their heads'... is this democracy? The way the BJP and Khattar government have treated people... Haryana will not tolerate," she said.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also tweeted, saying: "It is absolutely wrong to lathi charge farmers who are protesting peacefully."

Protests 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.

On Monday the Supreme Court, responding to a PIL by a resident in Uttar Pradesh's Noida, pulled up the Haryana government (as well as its UP counterpart and the centre) over roads in the national capital region that continue to be blocked.

"You (the centre and the UP and Haryana governments) have to find a solution", the court said, while also warning the three to respect farmers' right to protest.

In June too Haryana farmers and police clashed; that was after an MLA made abusive comments during a spat with protesting farmers in the town of Tohana.

Angry farmers surrounded his vehicle and, the following day, his home. Several were arrested and multiple FIRs were registered, including one for manhandling the MLA, Devendra Babli of the JJP.

The three farm laws have triggered widespread and furious protests from farmers; they say the laws will rob them of guaranteed prices for their crops and leave them at the mercy of corporate interests. The government, however, has insisted the laws will benefit farmers.

Several rounds of talks have been held but no resolution is in sight, with the government unwilling to scrap the laws (one of the farmers' demands) and the farmers standing firm.

A central panel last met farmers' leaders on January 22. There have been no talks since January 26, when a tractor rally in the national capital turned violent.

With input from PTI