Lakhimpur Kheri: “I am not lying, I feel like committing suicide because of the indefinite liability to the banks. The smallest to the biggest landowner today in Uttar Pradesh has their lands with the banks,” said Pritam Singh, a 62-year-old sugarcane and paddy farmer in Lakhimpur Kheri district’s Tikunia.
He was part of the October 3 protest in Tikunia that saw the death of at least eight persons, including four farmers, after a convoy of three SUVs hit protesting farmers, leading to clashes.
Union minister and Lakhimpur Kheri MP Ajay Mishra Teni’s son Ashish Mishra was allegedly present in one of the vehicles, and he was arrested on Saturday night six days after the incident.
The farmers, meanwhile, are continuing with their agitation in the poll-bound state. An ‘antim ardas’ — prayer meet — was organised for the deceased farmers on Tuesday at the Gurunanak Dev Sikh Academy in Tikunia. A large number of people were present at the gathering, with Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait also in attendance.
The Farmers Of Lakhimpur Kheri
Lakhimpur Kheri, the largest of the 75 districts of UP in terms of area, happens to be the highest contributor to the state’s agricultural Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
The district is also home to the largest Sikh population in UP, though they are in minority in the district, forming only 2.63 percent of the district’s population, according to the 2011 Census. Many of these Sikh families had settled in the Terai region after Partition.
Most of them do farming for a living, and oppose the three farm laws passed by the Narendra Modi government last year.
While farmers from Punjab and Haryana have been protesting at the Delhi borders since November 2020, the protests in Lakhimpur Kheri and other parts of UP have been different and more specific in nature compared to the Delhi agitation.
The UP farmers are protesting mostly in response to calls given by farmer organisations such as Sanyukt Kisan Manch (SKM) and Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU).
While blocking of roads, kisan mahasabhas, waving of black flags are common to both protests, the issues are regionally distinct.
UP Farmers’ Issues
According to local farmers, their agrarian distress has been perennial, with generations of them crippled by debt.
Pritam Singh, the farmer quoted above, said, “The smallest landowner in the region to the richest has their land mortgaged in the banks. I am not speaking just for myself, it is the condition of the entire Uttar Pradesh.”
The low returns on their cost of cultivation, the stagnation of one-crop cycle leading to a delay in sowing the next, and the selling off of the harvested crop at lower rates lead them to settle for an insufficient income.
Farmers feel suicidal at times, said Pritam Singh. According to him, their debt burden is so high that every farmer has thought of suicide at some point.
Talking about the protests at Delhi borders, he said, “It will be indefinite if required. It is important for us who even voted for BJP to get answers from them. We have taken Teni around in our tractors for campaigning. But the killing of our sons has changed things.”
What Happened In Lakhimpur Kheri On October 3
On October 3, 2021, UP farmers on a call given by the SKM were protesting against the visit of Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya to Banbirpur, MP Teni’s native village, near Lakhimpur Kheri.
Maurya was to attend a function at a school in Tikunia as the chief guest where Teni was to be felicitated on the day.
The farmers were said to be angry with Teni over his remarks on September 25, when he addressed a farmers’ gathering in Lakhimpur Kheri.
According to a video circulating on WhatsApp, Teni was purportedly seen and heard issuing a warning to “discipline” the protesting farmers opposing the farm laws.
The farmers had then reportedly resolved to step up the campaign and protest Maurya’s visit.
According to the farmers, it was a peaceful protest as they only planned to wave black flags as they occupied the road in Tikunia.
But everything turned grim when a car that was part of the MP’s convoy drove through the crowd, killing the four farmers and injuring many.
A clash ensued after this and four persons part of the minister’s convoy were also killed in the violence, the police later said.
Raman Kashyap, a local journalist, also died on the day and his family has said on record that he was run over by the minister’s car.
‘It was pre-planned’
Baljinder Singh Mann, BKU in charge of the Terai region, said the way the events unfolded indicate “it was all pre-planned”. He said there are several videos that show there was no violence from the protesters’ side.
Local farmers said the minister’s convoy should not have taken the Tikunia route.
“The police were aware of the farmers’ protest. The minister’s movement was yet allowed on the road and ram through the protesters,” said a protester, Jaipal Singh.
The four deceased farmers were Lavpreet Singh (19), Nachattar Singh (65), and Daljeet Singh (42), and Gurvinder Singh (22).
“No compensation is enough for the life lost,” said Balwinder Singh, a relative of deceased Lovepreet.
At the prayer meeting on Tuesday, more than 20,000 people had gathered to remember the deceased farmers, and they were addressed by SKM leaders.
Personnel from Lakhimpur Kheri police, Rapid Action Force, and Sashastra Seema Bal were deployed in good numbers to avoid any untoward incident.