21-year-old farmer killed as protesters move from Punjab into Haryana

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A 21-year-old farmer was killed on Wednesday as protesting farmers made a fresh attempt to resume their march to Delhi from Punjab, where they have been camping for the last nine days. The situation continues to be tense amid the ongoing stand-off between the Centre and the farmers.

According to a Punjab government statement, farmer Shubhkaran Singh from Balloh village in Bathinda suffered a fatal head injury at Dhabi Gujran in Patiala. He was taken to Rajindra Hospital in Patiala where he was declared dead. The cause of the injury is yet to be ascertained. The statement added that nine people suffered injuries at Shambhu and 14 at Dhabi Gujran, near Khanauri-Jind.

Farmer leaders have alleged that Shubhkaran Singh was hit by a rubber bullet. They said this is the first death in clashes since the ‘Delhi Chalo’ march began.

The Haryana Police resorted to the use of tear gas through drones (UAVs) and rubber bullets when farmer groups entered Haryana to head to the national capital. The protesting farmers from Punjab have been camping on two stretches — Shambhu-Ambala and Khanauri-Jind — on the inter-State boundary between Haryana and Punjab, since February 13.

Farmers protest, February 21, 2024 | updates

Their ‘Delhi Chalo’ march was stopped from entering Haryana with elaborate security arrangements and multi-layer barricades.

Injuries sustained

Many farmers and police personnel sustained injuries. Many farmers were equipped with masks, goggles, wet jute bags, and safety gear to resist the tear-gas effects.

Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann said a police case would be registered after the postmortem of Shubhkaran Singh and action taken against those found responsible.

The Haryana Police said that at the Data Singhwala-Khanauri border, the protesters surrounded the police from all sides. They said protesters used sticks, stones and chilli powder against them, leaving at least 12 policemen injured.

The Kisan Mazdoor Morcha and the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (Non-Political) — the two umbrella bodies of around 200 farmer and farm labourer unions — had given the call for the march to lay siege to the national capital to press for fulfilment of their demands, including a legal guarantee for purchasing their crops at a Minimum Support Price (MSP) and loan waivers.

Discussion on

At Shambhu, KMM coordinator Sarwan Singh Pandher said that a group of farmer leaders had started to move towards Haryana peacefully, but they were attacked with tear gas shells and rubber bullets. “We want to tell the Centre that this struggle will continue. What happened in Khanauri (where one farmer died), everyone saw that. We have decided to put the march to Delhi on hold for two days. We will have discussions against the backdrop of the Khanauri incident, and then we will take a call,” he said.

Even as the leaders of the SKM (Non-Political) ruled out the possibility for another round of dialogue with the Centre, the government maintained that it is ready for discussions. Union Agriculture Minister Arjun Munda said the Centre had four rounds of discussions and is ready for the fifth round on issues such as minimum support price, crop diversification, stubble burning and FIRs on farmers. “I invite the leaders of farmers once again for discussions. We have to maintain peace,” he said.

A leader of the SKM-NP told The Hindu that informal discussions with the SKM had begun and formal interactions would begin soon. “We will hold discussions with them on strengthening the protests in the future,” he said.

Call for protest

The SKM, trade unions and the Opposition parties condemned the killing of the young protester. The trade unions have said that February 23 would be observed as a Black Day in protest.

The SKM said the killing was a brutal assault on breadwinners from farmer families and added that Mr. Modi and the government were responsible for the present crisis as they had failed to implement the agreement with the SKM at the time of withdrawing the farmers’ protests in 2021.

The SKM said its national coordination committee and the general body, meeting in Chandigarh on Thursday, would discuss the situation and take decisive action to advance the struggle.

Bharatiya Kisan Union (Charuni) national president Gurnam Singh Charauni has given a call to block roads across Haryana for two hours on Thursday as a token protest against the police action.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, terming the killing heartbreaking, said 700 farmers had to sacrifice their lives to satisfy Mr. Modi’s arrogance during the last protests; this time too, the Prime Minister’s arrogance has become the enemy of farmers’ lives. “One day history will definitely demand an account of the ‘killing of farmers’ from the BJP even if they are hiding behind the friendly media,” Mr. Gandhi said.

CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said police ordering firing against our annadaatasis unacceptable. “Heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family,” he added.

Punjab politics

Political parties in Punjab cornered the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) government, blaming it for not being able to deal with the situation. Leader of the Opposition and Congress MP Partap Singh Bajwa said the death of a young farmer is extremely saddening. “The Haryana police are continuously throwing tear gas shells and shooting at the farmers in the area of Punjab. I strongly condemn such unfortunate actions of the Haryana Police. Punjab Chief Minster Bhagwant Mann, your silence shows that you have bowed down to the BJP government at the Centre. Even now it would be good if you wake up from your deep sleep and file an FIR against Haryana Home Minister Anil Vij and the Haryana Police,” he said.

Former Punjab Deputy Chief Minister and Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) president Sukhbir Singh Badal said, “The Chief Minister’s conspiratorial double game is responsible for the loss of this young life, the only brother of two sisters. The police of another State are allowed to assault and kill Punjabis on Punjab soil, with Bhagwant Mann collaborating with Haryana against Punjab farmers. Peaceful protest being met with bullets is unheard of in a democracy.”

The Punjab government has dismissed the allegations that the law and order position in the State has deteriorated. In a letter to the Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, Punjab’s Chief Secretary Anurag Verma said that the gathering of farmers in the jurisdiction of Punjab has remained largely peaceful and no untoward incident of much relevance has been reported. He said that about 160 persons have sustained injuries owing to the heavy use of riot control measures by the Haryana Police. Tear-gas shells, rubber bullets, physical force and drones have been used, he wrote.