I was definitely targeted in the Lakhimpur violence: Farmer leader Tajinder Singh Virk

15 October 2021

Tajinder Singh Virk, a 48-year-old who led the farmers’ protest held in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri on 3 October, has alleged that the cars that ran over protesters that day were also targeting him. The cars—linked to the minister of state for home affairs, Ajay Mishra Teni—ran over several protesters including Virk. The farmer leader sustained multiple fractures on his skull and body. “The videos that I am seeing, everyone was there in a 500-metre stretch. They crossed people for 400 metres, came ahead and hit the area where I was standing,” Virk said. “Some people were looking out from the Thar”—the first car that rammed into the farmers—“to identify that ‘we have to hit here.’” Virk survived the incident with grievous injuries. He spoke to The Caravan while he was still recovering in a hospital.

Angered by the attack, farmers set fire to two of the vehicles that had been used to charge at them. In all, eight people died in the violence—four farmers, two Bharatiya Janata Party workers, a driver of one of the cars and a journalist. Several others sustained injuries. Farmers accused Teni’s son, Ashish Mishra, of being a part of the cavalcade that ran over protesters. While Teni denied his son’s presence at the incident, the Uttar Pradesh Police arrested Ashish on 9 October.

In the last week of September, Teni was shown black flags by protesting farmers at another event in the district’s Palia town. He had then given a threatening speech: “Sudhar jao, nahi toh hum aapko sudhaar denge, do minute lagega keval”—You better mend your ways, or we will teach you a lesson, it will only take a couple of minutes. In response to this, Virk had given a call for a protest in Lakhimpur Kheri on 3 October—a day when Teni and the deputy chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Keshav Prasad Maurya, were due to attend an event in the district. Virk, a native of Uttarakhand’s Rudrapur, is the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha’s coordinator for the state of Uttar Pradesh and a member of the national core committee of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, an umbrella organisation of several farmers’ organisations. Virk is also the national president of another farmers’ organisation, Terai Kisan Sangathan. 

When I asked him if he thought he was targeted, Virk said, “Definitely.” According to Virk, at around 9.30 am on 3 October, a crowd started assembling at the helipad where Maurya’s helicopter was supposed to land. He added that within three hours thousands of protesters were present at the site. Maurya could not land at the spot and reportedly drove down to the event. The programme for which Maurya had arrived was located on the same road as the protest, Virk told me. “There was another route for that programme too,” he added.

Virk said that the farmers held a peaceful protest—they gave speeches that were broadcasted on a loudspeaker and some youth waived black flags. “BJP vehicles, with its flags, kept passing every now and then. We kept appealing from the loudspeakers, telling the youth showing black flags to let it be. We told them that our main aim is to stop the deputy CM, which we achieved, so let it be. What if some BJP workers infiltrate our protest, disturb the peace?”

At around 2 pm, SKM leaders and a local committee of farmers decided to end the protest. Virk told me that a police and district official arrived and said that they wanted to use the road around which the protesters had gathered for facilitating the deputy CM’s departure. The farmers’ representatives then asked these officials to change their route due to the large size of the crowd. Virk told me that at about 2.35 pm, a different pair of district and police officials approached him and asked him if the farmers wanted to give any memorandum to the deputy CM. “I told them that our demands are beyond the deputy CM’s level,” Virk said. “They pertain to the centre and that it was not a state matter.”

According to Virk, the officials again said that as per protocol, the deputy CM had to use the route that the farmers had asked them to not to take. “We said the crowd is too big, we explained to them for a while that, ‘There can be a law-and-order situation, so you divert the route,’” Virk told me. “They said, ‘What if we divert the route and you reach there as well?’ We told them that we won’t let that happen.” Virk said they asked the officials to inform them when the other programme was ending so that the protest and the programme didn’t end at the same time, “lest BJP workers and farmers came face to face.” According to Virk, the second district official said he would call them when the deputy CM left the programme. “We kept waiting for 10 minutes,” Virk said. They decided to end the protest around 3 pm.

Jatinder Kaur Tur is a senior journalist with two decades of experience with various national English-language dailies, including the Indian Express, the Times of India, the Hindustan Times and Deccan Chronicle.

Keywords: Lakhimpur Kheri Farmers' Protest