A STANDOFF between farmers and authorities in Tohana, in Haryana’s Fatehabad district, intensified over the weekend, with hundreds of protesters moving into the town’s Sadar police station and erecting a tent on the premises. Keeping them company was an unwitting protester — a cow that one of the farmers had brought along because “there was no one back home to look after her”.
The protesters have been demanding the release of two farmers who were arrested over a protest held on June 1 at the residence of Tohana’s JJP MLA Devender Babli. But with the two still in judicial custody, on Saturday, the farmers stepped up their protest with several of them, including over 60 women, spending the night on the two-acre police station campus. Farmer leaders Gurnam Singh Chaduni, Rakesh Tikait and Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav also spent Saturday night with the protesters. On Sunday, Punjab farmer leader Joginder Singh Ugrahan joined the farmers.
Through much of Sunday, protesters milled around the police station campus as a posse of policemen in riot gear stood watch. Some of the protesters sat on green carpets under the pink shamiana, chatting with each other and occasionally with the policemen on duty.
“Farmers from nearby areas have been supplying food and drinking water,” said Mandeep Nathwan, one of the protesters at the thana.
As part of their protest against the Centre’s three farm laws, farmers have been turning up to gherao leaders of the BJP and JJP — parties that are part of the ruling coalition — whenever they attend public programmes. On June 1, when Babli was on his way to attend a function at a government hospital in Tohana, farmers had allegedly stopped his car. In the clash that followed, Babli’s personal assistant sustained head injuries and the MLA vehicle’s windscreen was smashed. Two FIRs were lodged against the protesters.
But by Saturday, the MLA announced that he had “forgiven” those who attacked him and went on to apologise for the “abuses” he allegedly hurled during the clash. Farmers say the matter stands resolved and hope the two FIRs will be withdrawn.
But what remains a bone of contention is another FIR filed the same day, June 1, over a protest held in front of Babli’s residence in Tohana. As many as 27 farmers were arrested in connection with this protest. While the others were released, two farmers are still in judicial custody. The agitators at Sadar Police Station are demanding the release of these two farmers.
On Sunday, with talks between farmer leaders and district-level administrative officers failing to yield anything substantial, farmers decided to intensify their protest. “The talks did not yield the desired results as the administration has not given any assurance on releasing our farmer brothers. We will continue to protest at the Tohana police station till they are released,” said Suresh Koth, a farmer leader.
Reacting to the protesters’ demand, state Home Minister Anil Vij said, “The farmers may approach the court as this is in the purview of the court.”
Yogendra Yadav told The Indian Express: “It’s sheer arrogance on the government’s part that has created this situation. The MLA has already apologised and has agreed to take back his complaint. In the pending case against agitators, there is even no allegation of damage to property or violence. Even then the government did not agree to withdraw the case. Why is the government making it a prestige issue?”
With the talks failing, the protesters declared that from 11 am to 3 pm on Monday, they would hold similar protests at police stations across the state. Farmers from four districts – Fatehabad, Hisar, Jind and Sirsa – are expected to join the protest at Tohana’s Sadar police station on Monday.
Sadar Police Station SHO Inspector Vinod Kumar said they have deployed over 500 policemen to maintain law and order. “Our policemen remained alert the entire night to ensure that no untoward incident took place,” he said.