A fact finding report by civil society organizations on the Lakhimpur Kheri massacre of farmers damns the Uttar Pradesh police and administration while throwing fresh light on the incident that killed 8 people.

The report comes a day after a state Special Investigation Team filed a chargesheet in a local court that reportedly places Ashish Mishra, son of union minister of state for home Ajay Mishra Teni in a tight spot.

Eight people including four farmers, three Bharatiya Janata Party affiliates and a local journalist were killed in the incident during the farmers agitation against three ‘black’ farm laws that the government repealed just six weeks later.

The report interestingly lays emphasis on a thorough investigation of the build-up to the incident, and the deaths of the three BJP workers. It concludes:

“The incident of October 3 can be understood and investigated comprehensively only if the timeline of the incident is constructed from September 2021 and the context of land relations and the concerted attempts to communally divide the citizens is foreground in the investigation.”

It states that “Shyam Sundar Nishad, one of the BJP workers, was alive with the police and had reached an ambulance according to eyewitnesses. Later he was found dead. How do the police explain his death? Only an impartial investigation can help to bring out the truth.”

One of the key demands aired by the fact finding team is that “The truth about Shyam Sundar Nishad and other BJP workers’ death must be probed impartially so that the guilty don’t go scot free and the incident is not blamed on the dead to save the powerful accused.”

Professor Jagmohan Singh of the Association for Democratic Rights, Punjab who is one of the authors of the report told The Citizen that: “Who killed the three BJP workers needs to be brought out, particularly in the light of their being handed over to the authorities by the farmers. As for the report, we will make it as public as possible. We stand by it and the people must know what actually happened.”

The report describes the role of the police as “reprehensible… The police sided with the offenders, facilitated their entry and escape from the scene of the crime, and the police is found to be peddling lies. This team uncovered a series of lies and misinformation that is perpetrated by the state and police administration prior to the peaceful black flag protest, during the protest and after the brutal incident.”

The civil society organizations demand that the impunity of the state be challenged through due process, for which it is important to conduct a free and impartial inquiry. The report says this is possible only if the senior Teni is removed from his position as junior home minister in New Delhi.

“Ajay Mishra Teni’s past and the unconditional power he enjoys in the current regime creates very fertile ground for the investigation to be tampered, manipulated in his favour and subverted to his and his party’s advantage. For fair investigation to happen Ajay Mishra Teni must be divested of his ministerial position and the 120 CrPC complaint against him must be pursued.”

[Teni is reportedly accused under Section 120 of the IPC for criminal conspiracy leading to death.]

Further, “The official investigation should bring under enquiry the factors that led to this gory incident and must identify the actors responsible so that such crimes are not repeated in the future. This entails investigating the use of communal politics by the political elite; the role of hate speech; political intimidation and, the consequences of not divesting of their power of those who can influence the inquiry.”

It also observes that the practice of internet shutdown which the present regime is using with impunity must be called out as it works to silence the survivors while giving the perpetrators to build their narrative in the public. This practice must be changed.

“Those responsible for perpetuating an atmosphere of fear through their public and private actions must be identified and punished as per law,” the fact finders have registered.

The report also points to the underprovision of public services in the area: “It is also clear from the family testimonies that the poor state infrastructure and health services cost lives. If there were proper hospital facilities available in the area, at least a few more lives could have been saved.

“It was the responsibility of the local elected representative to develop such facilities in the area but Ajay Mishra Teni [elected to the Lok Sabha from Kheri] failed miserably in his role.”

On state intimidation the report observes, “Families of victims and others report that there is an atmosphere of fear prevailing in the area. The arbitrary use of Section 144 and stopping the movement of people, farm leaders, press and representatives of political parties from reaching out to families work to the advantage of the culprits. This practice must be challenged and the arbitrary restrictions on assembly and movement must stop.”

The report argues that the Lakhimpur Kheri massacre was likely pre-planned:

“Termination of Deputy CM’s programme to land in Tikunia for the Banvirpur event was known one day before the incident happened. By keeping this information away from the farmers, the police and local administration contributed to letting the tension build in the area.

“The way protesters were confined in a narrow stretch of less than 500 meters through barricading and negotiated agreement that they will not leave that space, made them an easy prey for the speeding vehicles which entered the stretch and mowed down the farmers. The precision with which this happened points to pre-planning.”

The chargesheet filed by the SIT in a local court on Monday reportedly says that Teni’s son Ashish Mishra was on the spot during the incident, inside one of the SUVs involved in the attack on protesting farmers and the journalist. This is something that Teni and his son have repeatedly denied.

Things started moving in the case only after the Supreme Court intervened. As the legal process unfolds, it is certain that the case will find an echo in the run up to the assembly polls scheduled to be held in about a month in five states including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.

By continuing to retain Teni as union minister, the BJP will have a lot of answering to do as the campaign gathers steam.