Chandigarh: The last word has not yet been written on the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, in which eight persons were killed on 3 October. The main accused in the case, Ashish Mishra, the 38-year-old son of Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra ‘Teni’, is currently in police custody.
Ashish Mishra has been charged with driving one of the vehicles that mowed down protesting farmers in Tikoniya village, neighbouring his ancestral village Banbirpur. Both Ajay and Ashish Mishra have vehemently denied being involved in the incident.
The day of the incident has been well-documented through videos shot by onlookers. But apart from the videos which went viral and have been shown repeatedly on TV channels, there are many more videos available in the public domain that have not been seen before or have been seen only in parts.
ThePrint has mined this information and pieced together the day as it unfolded, as well as the events that led up to it. However, the veracity of the videos cannot be independently verified.
The weeks before 3 October
The week prior to the incident had seen escalation of the tension between the farmers and the local BJP leadership.
Around mid-September, farmers had started dharnas at two sugar mills at Sampurna Nagar, demanding payment for their sugarcane.
Guramneet Singh Mangat, general secretary of the Progressive Farmers Front (PFF), one of the two bodies that organised the 3 October protest at Lakhimpur Kheri, was leading the protest at Sampurna Nagar too.
On 24 September, the PFF issued a video message that farmers will show black flags to Ajay Mishra, the Lakhimpur Kheri MP, during his visit to Khajuria and Sampurna Nagar the next day.
“The next morning I was put under house arrest. But our supporters managed to show Ajay Mishra black flags while he was on his way. In response, he showed us a thumbs-down sign, the video of which went viral,” said Mangat.
Ajay Mishra addressed multiple gatherings that day, and at two places, he openly threatened the protesting farmers.
“In one of his speeches he talked about bulldozing schools, which was directed at me as I run two schools in Sampurna Nagar,” claimed Mangat.
The minister’s speeches invited sharp reactions. On 26 September, Tajinder Singh Virk, president of the Terai Kisan Sangathan and member of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, issued a video condemning him.
“Everyone was upset with Mishra’s speeches and it was decided that farmers will show black flags to (Uttar Pradesh’s) Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, who was to come as chief guest to the annual dangal (wrestling competition) organised by the Mishras at their ancestral village Banbirpur in Lakhimpur Kheri,” said Mangat.
The PFF collaborated with the Lakhimpur Kheri unit of the Bharatiya Kisan Union led by Naresh Tikait, and asked Virk to lead the protest. This is a video of Virk inviting supporters for the protest.
Morning of 3 October
Farmers were asked to gather at a school in Tikoniya village with black flags at 9 am on Sunday, 3 October. Tikoniya village was chosen because it is adjacent to Banbirpur, and Deputy CM Maurya was to land in a chopper at Tikoniya to proceed to the dangal programme.
The protesters had planned to stand on both sides of a portion of the road from Tikoniya to Banbirpur, and show black flags to Maurya and Mishra when they passed through.
By the time the leaders of the protest reached Tikoniya at around 9.45 am, thousands of people from nearby villages had already gathered. The crowd was much bigger than the organisers had expected, and it was decided that apart from showing black flags, they will also take over the makeshift helipad to ensure the chopper does not land.
Amandeep Singh Sandhu, the Lakhimpur Kheri district president of BKU (Tikait), went live on Facebook as the protest began. His videos (below, also here and here) show the leaders atop a tractor trolley with a speaker system, leading protesters from the school to the Tikoniya road. Announcements were made to keep the road clear and protesters were told to stay off the metalled part of the road.
Tajinder Virk also sent an update of the event for the Kisan Ekta Morcha Facebook page.
Did crowd hit vehicles before incident?
“There were protesters inside the helipad-ground and also on the road. Scores of vehicles passed through the road during the protest. Most of them were local BJP leaders going to Banbirpur for the dangal. No one was stopped or hit,” BKU’s Sandhu told ThePrint.
A video posted by the Kisan Ekta Manch Facebook page (relevant video till the 8-minute mark) showed cars and bikes passing rows of protesters who are hooting and raising flags but not hitting vehicles. Organisers can be seen trying to keep the protesters disciplined, and asking them not to touch the vehicles.
However, in another video posted by news channel UP Tak’s Facebook page (relevant video till 1 minute 50 seconds), protesters are seen hitting the passing vehicles with the flag masts, even as organisers announce “don’t do wrong things”. BJP workers allege that vehicles with the party’s flags were especially targeted.
Another set of videos has been posted by Pradeep Gupta, mandal mantri of the BJP, on Facebook.
A BJP leader Pawan Gupta alleged that the crowd had stopped his vehicle and hit it with sticks.
Then, at around 2.15 pm, the SDM on duty informed the farmer leaders that Maurya had changed his route to Banbirpur, Mangat said.
“Since the protesters had largely come on bikes and had to travel long distances, we decided to end the protest and start back,” he added.
Virk gave a final speech claiming victory and thanked everyone.
“By 2.30 pm, we moved out of the ground. Someone came and gave a message to Virk to accompany him. He started moving ahead and I was standing talking to someone near the ground gate. Three vehicles came from the Banbirpur side, hooters blazing,” recalled Mangat.
A short video shot from the side of the ground shows the entry of the three vehicles from the right.
A part of a second video which has been widely seen shows the cars coming in from the left, first slowing down a bit and then accelerating. This video shows people talking that the cars might cause an accident and shows people rushing behind them.
The full video was put up on YouTube by ‘Virk Point’, but was later was removed. ThePrint has a screen recording of the video.
Mangat narrated: “First, the (Mahindra) Thar took a turn towards where I was. I was pulled to the side by someone standing near me. Then it turned towards the other side. One person was completely crushed and another flung into the air. Since the protesters were on the roadsides, it swung from side to side hitting as many people as it could.”
Virk too was hit, as is visible in the video that shows the Thar mowing down people. He survived and underwent treatment in Gurugram before being discharged.
This video gives another view of the same incident.
After going about 600 metres, the Thar stopped suddenly and went off the metalled road. “This happened because it was dragging a body under it and could not move further,” said Sandhu.
“The moment the Thar stopped, the black (Toyota) Fortuner behind it, in order to avoid crashing into it, took a sharp right and tried to escape ahead, but went off the road. There was a bus parked ahead and there was no space for it to manoeuvre out. With both the vehicles ahead out of the way, the third vehicle shot off straight,” said Mangat.
He also claimed that many people saw “Ashish Mishra and his men get off the Thar and run towards the sugarcane fields”.
“The locals recognised him and started running away from him in fear. He fired at the spot, clearing the space ahead of him, and the police there followed him, giving covering fire as they ran into the sugarcane fields,” alleged Mangat.
There is a short clip of the protesters running behind the police into the fields, telling them that they should not have helped “him” run away.
“I ran towards the vehicles. The sight was gruesome. People were strewn on the road with broken arms and legs bleeding. Some had died on the spot. I looked for the additional SP and additional deputy commissioner on duty, who were ahead of the cars and making calls for more forces to arrive,” said Mangat.
Videos of the dead and the injured from the spot of the incident, in ambulances and from hospitals, went viral. Many of these are too grisly to be shared.
Crowd goes berserk
There are some videos (here and here) of protesters hurling abuses and shouting, overturning vehicles and hitting those who got out of the cars with sticks. After the 1-minute 50-second mark of this video, the anger of the protesters can be seen and heard in the form of extremely abusive language.
“The vehicles were full of ammunition, which was bursting,” claimed Sandhu, adding that the police had found cartridges from the burnt Thar.
“The crowd was very angry. We saved three persons who had gotten out of these cars from the crowd and handed them to the police,” said Mangat.
“The first person was the one whose video later went viral. The farmers were asking him questions about Teni (Ajay Mishra). He is seen being hit while he is still answering, and that is where the video ends. But the fact is that he was handed over to the police. How he is counted as killed by farmers later, we don’t know,” he added.
The person killed was later identified as Sham Sundar Nishad.
Sandhu shared a picture of him being taken away by the police.
The same picture has been shared by BJP workers on their Facebook pages, alleging that Sham Sundar was killed by the farmers despite having been taken away by the police.
Evening of 3 October
After the injured are sent to the hospital, the trolley that had been used as the stage for the farmer leaders in the day and had a speaker system, was used to block the road. The first dead body picked up from the site was put next to it on a bed.
Sandhu went live on his Facebook page after the incident from atop this trolley. His video showed another dead body being brought to the spot. Protesters then brought another BJP worker near the trolley, and the angry crowd tried to get hold of him, but he was saved by Mangat. He was pulled up onto the trolley and questioned by the farmer leaders and later by policemen.
The short video clip of this unidentified person’s interrogation atop the trolley went viral. A longer video showed the policeman telling people not to give any water to the man as he went about interrogating him.
The BJP worker could be seen telling the police that he is a clerk with Ankit Das, who had come to the dangal. Ankit Das was arrested by the police Wednesday.
In Sandhu’s next live video, Mangat got onto the trolley and started instructing the crowds. By this time, two BJP workers could be seen lying injured in the trolley.
“The police wanted to take the injured men, but the crowd wouldn’t allow it,” said Mangat.
The protesters demanded a case be registered against Ashish Mishra, his father and Maurya. They also demanded the immediate stopping of the dangal.
Mangat and Sandhu asked people not to leave the spot and sit on dharna on the road till Samyukt Kisan Morcha leaders reached Lakhimpur Kheri. “We were worried that the agitated crowd might move towards the dangal and come face-to-face with BJP workers there,” said Mangat.
The agitated protesters were calmed down, and as relatives of the dead began to arrive at the spot, the atmosphere turned solemn.
The sit-in began at the spot, and at 4 am, BKU spokesperson Rakesh Tikait reached Lakhimpur Kheri, after which an agreement with the administration was reached.
Despite the dangal being a major event for the Mishras, and the presence of a huge crowd with many phone cameras, there are not many videos of it available in the public domain.
A curtain raiser report of the preparations for the dangal is here.
Ajay Mishra too is seen in the dangal, without Maurya, who gave the event a miss.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)