As the farmers’ agitation across India gains global attention, an ongoing “witch hunt” in Uttar Pradesh seeks to create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation with surety bonds issued against those organising the movement and farmer leaders across organisations.
Fresh notices have been served to farmer leaders as well as protesters across various districts in Uttar Pradesh requiring them to furnish surety bonds to ensure the “maintenance of peace”. While younger protesters claim they are being intimidated en masse, farmer leaders have vowed to not back down.
After a major mahapanchayat was held in Muzaffarnagar district in western Uttar Pradesh, at least 200 farmers linked to the farmers’ protests against the Farm Laws have received notices asking them to sign personal bonds worth Rs two lakh to “ensure peace”. The administration has said that these bonds were being filled out to ensure peace in the panchayat and that if there was any loss of public property it could be recovered from the leaders.
However, it is not just farmer leaders but younger volunteers who are also bearing the brunt of participating in the protests with their families.
“We fear for our future,” say Volunteers
Notices were reportedly sent to Sitapur, Lakhimpur and Shahjahanpur among several other districts. Although such notices were earlier sent in January this year, youths say they continue to be called by police officials on a daily basis to submit hefty amounts and appear before them.
Harvinder Singh (name changed), a 22-year-old native of Sitapur, who was volunteering at the protest site at Ghazipur was given one such notice and a bond of Rs five lakhs. While his father pleaded their way out of the situation, many others continue to face harassment.
Speaking to NewsClick, he said: “I was sent the notice earlier too, in January this year. My parents had then resolved the matter, however, many still face intimidation from the police. Notices were sent in bulk across districts to many households, thousands would have been issued until now. Others who got the notices get phone calls everyday to come in and give their statement and pay the amount. The government continues to crack down on us for no fault of ours. My father is a farmer, I was continuously working at the border as a volunteer; now we fear for our future.”
“The notices were sent before we went to the protest sites at Delhi’s borders, the villages are being surveilled for who goes and participates,” he added.
A notice sent to a volunteer
Justifying the notices, Sitapur Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Amit Bhatt told NewsClick that they had nothing to do with farmers' movement. “The panchayat elections will be held soon in Uttar Pradesh. These notices are being issued under sections 107 and 116 of the CrPC to maintain law and order keeping the upcoming elections in mind. The process of issuing notices is going on and around 700 more people will be issued such notices soon,” he added.
Notices continue despite legal intervention
Last week, the Allahabad High Court had asked state authorities why SDMs were issuing notices to farmers with tractors asking them to furnish “exorbitant personal bonds”. The state informed the court that “it has decided to drop proceedings against farmers with with tractors who were earlier issued notices to furnish 'exorbitant personal bonds' (amounts up to ₹10 lakh each) in the wake of farmers protests.”
However, it does not seem so on the ground.
Farmer leaders and social activists from western UP complained of police intimidation and high-handedness as legal notices were sent to over 50 farmer leaders over the last three days despite the Allahabad HC order.
Former Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) MLA Virpal Rathi was also served a notice along with six others a day before they participated in a mahapanchayat in Baraut tehsil of Baghpat district on January 31. "The government issued the notice to prevent farmers from joining the movement. I received the notice on January 30 and when I approached the district administration to talk to them about it, they denied issuing it. This is how the administration is misusing the law against farmers to suppress their voices,” Rathi told NewsClick.
Anger and disappointment is palpable in the sugarcane belt ever since the administration has begun issuing notices for joining mahapanchayats.
BKU national spokesperson Rakesh Tikait told NewsClick: “After the Allahabad HC order the UP government has said that it has dropped proceedings against 162 farmers from Sitapur who were issued notices of personal bonds of Rs 10 lakh. How has the administration again issued notices to the farmers for participating in a mahapanchayat?” asked Tikait, alleging that it was contempt of court. The BKU spokesperson further said that the farmers would not be scared with such notices and oppose the laws.
Several farmers have alleged that the Agra police forcibly took their signatures on papers without providing them with any copy. They were asked to report before a local court. Shyam Singh Chahar, a farmer leader from Agra, was served with a show-cause notice to “sign a bond promising lawful behaviour for a year against a surety of Rs 5 lakh”.
Notice sent to Shyam Singh
“The district administration is threatening me and my family members with legal action. They have asked me to deposit Rs five lakh as a bond. There are many others, including women, who were ordered to submit bonds of Rs five lakh. They know that we do not have that kind of money,” Chahar told NewsClick, asking why was the administration afraid of protesting farmers. “The cops are threatening me and my family with legal action. They have asked me to stay away from the farmers’ protest. I will continue to hold public meetings against the three Farm Laws. I am not afraid of the consequences,” said Chahar.
After the Republic Day tractor parade, the Delhi Police had sent over 50 fresh notices to people, including farmer leaders, in connection with the violence that broke out, officials said on Sunday.
The Delhi Police had earlier issued notices against 44 people. Teams of Delhi Police are “carrying out investigations at several locations outside the national capital, including Punjab and Haryana, to apprehend the people who were involved in the violence. They are also looking for those who hoisted flags at the Red Fort.”
In December too farmer leaders were asked to to submit personal bonds of Rs 50 lakh each to prevent them from “inciting” other farmers to join protests against the farm laws. UP Police later said the amount was “a clerical error” and reduced it to Rs 50,000 each. However, the leaders said the notice itself was a means to “throttle democratic protest”.