New Delhi: Four farmers were among the eight killed in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri Sunday after a convoy of three SUVs hit protesting farmers in the district.
The four victims — Nachattar Singh (60), Lovepreet Singh (20), Daljeet Singh (35) and Gurvinder Singh (19) — belonged to Sikh farmer families, who had moved into the area after the Partition.
The district of Lakhimpur Kheri is home to the largest Sikh population in Uttar Pradesh, most of whom belong to the farming community.
According to the 2011 Census, 6,43,500 Sikh population live in Uttar Pradesh and of them, 94,388 are settled in Lakhimpur Kheri. However, they are a minority in the district as they constitute just 2.63 per cent of the district’s population.
ThePrint traces the origin and history of these Sikhs in the state of Uttar Pradesh.
Sikhs in Uttar Pradesh
A sizable population of Sikhs moved to Uttar Pradesh and settled in various districts in the Terai belt after Partition.
Known as ‘mini Punjab’, the Terai belt, a marshy plain south of the Himalayas on the Nepal border, stretches from Saharanpur in the west to Kushinagar in the east and includes districts such as Nalital, Pilibhit, Rampur, Bijnor and Lakhimpur Kheri.
According to the 1963 Census, UP witnessed a 43.58 per cent rise in Sikh population from 1,97,612 in 1951 to 2,83,737 in 1961.
A report in the Economic and Political Weekly magazine noted that this migration was fuelled by the agricultural potential of the land, which had been lying barren prior to Independence.
The first settlement of Sikh farmers was set up in 1952, when refugees from Punjab were granted 12 acres of land per family. However, land was only given to those who already owned some acres in their native regions.
“Post India’s and Punjab’s Partition in 1947, compensatory land was given to those who had to forfeit their land in West Punjab, in parts of Punjab and UP. That is how a substantial number of Punjabi people — and Sikh community — the Jats among them (as primary landowners in colonial and post-colonial Punjab) came to own land”, Anshu Malhotra, Professor & Kapany Chair for Sikh & Punjab Studies, University of California Santa Barbara, told ThePrint.
Meanwhile, lower caste Sikhs like a section of Raisikhs joined the labour force since they did not receive land of their own. Some of the Raisikhs also bought land from local tribes like Tharus and Buxhas, the original inhabitants of Terai, along with the Mazhabis, another lower caste community of Sikhs.
In 2019-20, Lakhimpur Kheri was the highest contributor to the agricultural production in the state.
The Sikh farmers have played a huge role in making Lakhimpur Kheri district one of the highest contributors to the agricultural production of the state with a total contribution of Rs 12,414.40 crore to the state’s agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector in 2019-20.
While several Sikh families in the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh trace their origins to the Partition, the region has often been called the “base of operations” for Sikh “militants”, especially in the 1980s-90s.
In 1986, police raids were conducted on 6.5 lakh Sikh households, in a purported counter-terrorism measure. While nothing incriminating was found in the raids, the Sikh farmers in the region accused the UP government, then led by Congress’ Vir Bahadur Singh, of treating them as second-class citizens.
Several violent incidents have also been reported from the area since the 1990s, including the encounter in Pilibhit in 1991, where 10 Sikhs were killed by the UP Police in three separate ‘encounters’.
Initially, the 10 Sikhs were identified as militants but later it was found they were pilgrims returning from holy sites. In 2016, 47 police officers were sentenced to life for the killings.
In 2017, a joint operation by Punjab Police and UP’s Anti-Terrorism Squad, raised the alarm that militants of a banned Khalistani terror group, Babbar Khalsa International (BKI), were residing in districts dominated by Sikhs in Uttar Pradesh.
Two members of the group were later arrested from Lakhimpur Kheri.
On farm laws
Sikh farmers in Uttar Pradesh have been part of the ongoing farmers’ protest, which started last year, against the three contentious farm laws.
The Sikh-dominated areas in Uttar Pradesh largely cultivate sugarcane, an important cash crop in the state, while rice and wheat are principal food grain crops. Others include pearl millet, maize, rapeseed and mustard.
In the past few years, an agrarian crisis has developed in the cultivation of sugarcane in Uttar Pradesh. The crisis revolves around three major issues — unchanged prices, delayed or staggered payments, and exponential growth in input costs.
Sugarcane farmers have also protested against this crisis earlier, particularly, the non-upgradation of sugarcane state advised price (SAP), which had remained unchanged since 2017-18.
The Yogi Adityanath government raised the price in 2021, from Rs 325 per quintal to Rs 350 per quintal. However, farmer leader, Rakesh Tikait, chief of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, called the move a big joke on farmers.
The Sikh population in Uttar Pradesh is considered an important vote bank in the Terai region, with its numbers significant enough to tilt the results in the region.
In 2018, Shiromani Akali Dal’s (SAD) Sukhbir Singh Badal also admitted their political significance and said, “Sikhs control more than 70,000 votes in the state (UP).”