Lucknow: In what has been termed as an attempt to blatantly misuse power, the stringent Uttar Pradesh Control of Goondas Act, 1970, has been invoked against eight farmer leaders, including a student of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) in Varanasi — the parliamentary constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi—for allegedly participating in ongoing farmers' protest at the Delhi-Noida border against the three farm laws.
The Act has been invoked against All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) district secretary Ramjee Singh, Communist Party of India (CPI) district secretary Jaishankar Singh, Swaraj India's Ramjanam Yadav, BHU student Shivraj Yadav, Communist Party of India (Marxist) members Bansraj Patel, Nehaluddin, Mohammad Alam and Shivshankar Lal from Varanasi.
The notice sent to Ramjee Singh by the District Magistrate of Varanasi and accessed by NewsClick said that based on the information, it appeared to him that Singh “himself or as member of a gang or as a kingpin of a gang, habitually commit a criminal offence or attempt to commit it or get it done or tries to get it done, which is punishable under Indian Penal Code (IPC) chapter 16 (offences affecting human body), 17 (offence against property) and 22 (criminal intimidation, insult and annoyance).”
Similar notices sent to the others further read that they have been known for their dangerous activities and have been planning for a sabotage in Varanasi district. They have repeatedly been involved in criminal activities, the notice says, further claiming that no witness gives any statement against these persons fearing for their own lives or properties.
Reacting sharply to the invoking of Goondas Act, Ramjee Singh of AIKS termed it the "worst kind of political vendetta". He said, "We have been served notices under Goonda Act and asked for written explanation by January 16 that why should the administration not take action under the act," Singh told NewsClick.
When asked on what basis the Goondas Act was invoked against them, the AIKS leader said, "We had organised a protest against the farm laws on January 4 in front of the (Varanasi) district headquarter in a democratic way in support of the farmers protesting at New Delhi and UP border," he said, adding that the government cannot muzzle the voice of farmers by serving notices and they will continue to fight for the cause of farmers no matter police arrest or detention. He said, after discussing with others who have been booked under the Goondas Act, that they will challenge this in the Allahabad High Court.
According to the AIKS leader, at least eight people have received notices under the Goondas Act so far in Varanasi in the past few days.
Echoing similar sentiments, Ramjanam Yadav, leader of Swaraj India, said: "The Yogi government is misusing the Goondas Act, Gangster Act and the National Security Act (NSA) predominantly against those who are Muslims and Dalits, and now they are using these against farmers as well," Yadav said such a draconian law is supposed to be used against a person who is a serial offender, but the government is not even sparing farmers.
"This is the new way to oppress farmers. As of now only eight people have received the notice but sooner or later, they will harass more people by sending such notices to those who were active during anti-CAA/NRC protests in Uttar Pradesh or extended their support to farmers against the three farm laws," said Yadav who recently participated in the farmers’ protest at Shahjahanpur border. Yadav is seeing the move by the BJP government as a reaction against them participating in the protest.
The farmer leaders said that the Goondas Act notices is against the orders of the High Court. The Allahabad High Court has clearly stated in many decisions that the Goondas Act cannot be imposed on any person on the basis of just one lawsuit.
UP POLICE VS FARMER LEADERS
The Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government appears bent on using any measure to prevent farmers from protesting in the state or reaching the Delhi border to join the ongoing protest. This includes surveillance, blocking movement of people and alleged police harassment. Meanwhile, several incidents of farmers being stopped by the UP administration and police forces captured on mobile phones have gone viral on social media platforms.
In one such incident, Bulandshahr police on Thursday stopped hundreds of farmers, "seized their tractor trolleys" and put under house arrest several union leaders who were moving towards the national capital to join the anti-farm laws protests. The incident was captured on phone and shared on social media.
In the video shared on Twitter, Bulandshahr circle officer (City) Sangram Singh can be seen stopping the farmers' tractor in the middle of the road. The police officer got involved in a heated argument with Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Mangeram Tyagi who was driving the tractor and asked him to park his tractor on the side of the road.
“If we had we not stopped them, 10-15 thousand tractors would have reached to Delhi from Bulandshahr alone. It would have created chaos in Delhi if such huge numbers of tractors reached there," Santosh Kumar, Bulandshahr’s Senior Superintendent of Police said, claiming that “no force was used” to stop the farmers and rather, a dialogue was created between the two sides.
Another such incident was reported from Sitapur district, where a farmer who was identified as Pinder Singh Sindhu, general secretary of Rashtriya Kisan Majdoor Sangathan (RKMS), Lucknow, was seen being confronted by police personnel who accused him of “having no control” over his followers during a tractor march on January 7.
A police officer threatened Sindhu and said: “If you don't stop this tractor rally, your terrace will be demolished. The farmer, on the other hand, was addressing the policemen as “saheb (sir)” and saying his followers are following the law.
Meanwhile, the UP government has appointed IAS and IPS officers as nodal officers who have been touring all the 75 districts of the state. The officers have been reportedly given the responsibility to mark those farmers in every district who may try to be part of the farmers movement.
As per the directions issued by the government to the nodal officers, they have been told that they should also visit villages and initiate dialogue with influential farmer leaders.
Meanwhile, the UP Police arrested or detained more than two dozen farmers leaders in the state including Kanta Kola from Sonbhadra, Yogi Raj Patel from Varanasi, Ajay Rai from Chandauli and Iqbal Ansari from Mau. These farmer leaders are associated with the All India People’s Front.
Richa Singh, member of Sangtin Kisan Mazdoor Sangthan, had been put under house arrest by Sitapur police since Wednesday, a day before the January 7 tractor rally.
“We had given a call for a tractor march in Sitapur by various farmers’ organisations and I had to go as a participant in the rally but I was under house arrest in the evening of January 6. My house turned into a police camp within an hour and till now, cops have been camping in-front of my house,” Richa told NewsClick, adding that the police are not showing any documents the basis on which they have put her under house arrest.