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Lakhimpur Killings: Asthi Kalash Yatra Draws Crowds from all Walks of Life in Haryana

People shocked by the manner in which farmers were mowed down; flay Modi for silence on incident and not sacking BJP minister named in an FIR.
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Rohtak (Haryana): As the mini truck carrying the Asthi Kalash (urn of ashes) began its journey from Rohtak on Friday morning, the flocking crowds started raising slogans to pay respect to the deceased farmers who were killed in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri.

The countrywide call for a Asthi Kalash Yatra was given by the farmers’ collective, Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) wherein several contingents of farmers are touring different districts across states with the ashes in a bid to expose the brutality unleashed allegedly by associates of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and Minister of State of Home Affairs Ajay Mishra Teni and his son Ashish Mishra. Four farmers and one journalist were mowed down by a speeding SUV, allegedly driven by Ashish, when they were returning from a protest on October 3.

Clad in traditional attire, Sunita, standing beside the truck, said she was part of a deep communication network of farmers in which they share information of protests and proposed actions in their respective areas. Talking to NewsClick, Sunita said residents of her village Madina, stationed at the Tikri Border, had told her about ashes coming to the village.

“I had sleepless nights when I saw the video of vehicles crushing people. It was barbaric. How could one do that? They are thinking that they can crush the movement like NRC-CAA agitation but this movement is different,” she said.

Another participant in the procession said many women had left their chores in farms and houses to come to the community hall and pay their homage to the farmers.

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For Sunita, the movement has brought unprecedented unity among communities and this campaign would only strengthen the bond. “They deliberately raised issues on caste and religious lines. Nobody visited each other’s families even for weddings. It (farmers’ movement) has brought us together on concerns that we all share. People have realised that privatisation is really hurting us. The brazenness of privatisation is such that they (Narendra Modi government) have now allowed lateral entry in governance. People voted for Modi because they hoped different action from him. But he has also failed us. The Lakhimpur incident has ensured that he will not return to power if he chooses to stand with the minister,” she added.

Meanwhile, persistent announcements from the truck made it clear that a renewed emphasis is being given on strengthening protest sites on borders ahead of the Supreme Court hearing. The apex court, in its last hearing, has remarked that while protesters have the right to protest, they cannot block the roads indefinitely.

Currently, the farmers are agitating at Ghazipur, Tikri and Singhu borders of the national capital. Other permanent protests are in Haryana’s Palwal and Shahjahanpur border.

The next stop for the Yatra was a rather calm neighbourhood in Bahu Akbarpur where Dharamvir Singh and his friends welcomed the caravan.

When NewsClick asked him about the Supreme Court hearing, Singh said farmers have removed some tents tactically to show that it is Delhi Police that has built the walls on the borders, not the farmers. When reminded about a similar remark made by the SC during the anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) agitation, he said: “This is a much broader movement. With this movement too, they tried similar tactics. They portrayed it as a movement of a single religion. First, the January 26 incident happened, then the recent killing of a dalit allegedly by Nihang Sikhs. Both conspiracies have been busted and they have been exposed. As far as Supreme Court is concerned, it should ask the government to listen to the farmers. We wanted to go to Delhi. The administration stopped us at borders.”

Commenting on the silence of PM Modi on the Lakhimpur incident, Singh said: “Dhritarashtra (in the Mahabharata) also tied a black cloth on his eyes when he knew his sons were committing sins. What happened to him is history now.”

A striking feature of the Asti Kalash Yatra was the overwhelming support from youth. Aman got the news of the truck coming to Lakhan Majra just when he was studying in a private library to prepare for government jobs. His friend and farmer leader Akshay Narwal told NewsClick that they deliberately did not make elaborate arrangements as it would have slowed the truck’s movement.

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“A bigger congregation means people would stay longer. We wanted the Yatra to cover as many villages as possible in a single day”, he said.

Just before moving to address the gathering, he said: “Ministers like (Ajay) Mishra preach that good people should be away from the politics. The real reason is that they do not want the sons and daughters of farmers and workers to join politics, because if they enter politics, they will bring their issues, too.”

Another remarkable feature of the Yatra was the wide support from civil society as it entered the plush areas of Rohtak city neatly divided in sectors. Jagbir Singh, who retired from Indian Air Force, came out in support of farmers at Jat Bhawan in Sector-3 of the city.

Talking to NewsClick, Singh said: “Even if we rule out the possibility of a conspiracy, the (Lakhimpur) incident in itself was brutal where people died in this manner. This is not a healthy sign in a democracy. This can happen to anybody. Where will people go if their grievances are not heard?”

Asked about the continuance of the BJP minister in office, Singh said: “Ideally, he should have resigned on moral grounds. If he did not do it, the PM should sacked him. If he remains in power, how can a junior police officer take action against him?”

Sukhbir Singh Mathur who heads the resident welfare association of Sector-4 extension, was miffed at the way the protesters were treated. “They have changed the definition of agitation. When we protested, it was called illegal. When we moved to Delhi, we were stopped at borders. I just want to ask them, how should we protest so that does not bother them? Now, they have objections with the Yatra too. When they roamed around the country with ashes of their leaders [former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former UP CM Kalyan Singh] there was no issue, but when we are doing it, they are objecting. Why should we not conduct the yatra? They have unleashed atrocities on us. Can’t we even raise our voices?”

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