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Punjab hamlets united by police gaze

February 08, 2021 05:02 AM


Punjab hamlets united by police gaze

Tataria Wala village in Moga district. ht photo
Prawesh Lama

Bathinda/Moga : The villages of Bangi Nihal Singh and Tateria Wala are situated 119km apart, both nestled in the rural heartlands of Punjab’s Bathinda and Moga districts.

The villages have a combined population of 5,500 people and are both located more than an hour’s drive from the main towns of Bathinda and Moga.

There is, however, a thread that connects both the hamlets, in the records of the Delhi Police.

Both are two villages, according to police records, from where large group of farmer protesters — who went on a rampage in the afternoon of January 26, often fighting pitched battles with security forces — hailed from. The names of the two villages figure prominently against the address column of men arrested for the Republic Day violence in the Capital.

At least seven men from Bangi Nihal Singh and 12 from Tateria Wala had been arrested for rioting and violence at Nangloi and Paschim Vihar on January 26. The other 102 men nabbed are from different villages in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi.

Delhi police have said that the arrested men deviated from the pre-approved route of their tractor rally, attacked police personnel when they were stopped, and indulged in rioting.

HT travelled to the two villages in Punjab to find out more.

Tataria Wala has about 1,500 residents, mostly farmers, of whom 12 are behind bars in Delhi’s Tihar jail. Most men from this village have now come to Delhi to protest at the Tikri border against the three farm laws. Residents say that more people have gone to Delhi after the arrest of the 12 , with women in the area saying that they will soon join their husbands, brothers, sons, and add strength to the agitation on the roads of Delhi.

“One of my sons is now in Tihar jail. Another is in Srinagar, fighting terrorists for the Indian army. How can we be a family of rioters? We are farmers, who are raising our voices against unjust farm laws,” Sukhjinder Kaur, 53, a resident of Tataria Wala village said, after returning from the local panchayat meeting.

The villagers have been holding panchayat every day to ensure the release of the 12 men.

Sukhjinder’s son, Harjinder, 23, is among the 12 men arrested for the violence in Nangloi on January 26. The family said they own five acres of land, much like the 11 other men aged between 19 and 50 years, who are currently lodged in Tihar jail. They are all farmers, they say, and were all arrested in FIR number 46/21.

On the afternoon of January 23, the 12 men and a teenager, aged 17 years, had left for Tikri border in two tractors to participate in the tractor rally.

Only the teenager returned.

He was also caught on the night of January 26 near Peeragarhi in west Delhi but released after two days, after police found that he was a minor.

“We were returning after the rally. Our tractor broke down and we lost our way. We reached Peeragarhi late at night and ended up in front of a massive crowd of police officers. They asked us where we were going. We said we were lost and were trying to find our way to Tikri. We were directly taken to the Mangolpuri police station,” the 17-year-old boy, a Class 10 student at the village’s government school, said.

Most locals said their village may have been painted as a den of rioters, but to them the truth is that their 12 residents were at the wrong place at the wrong time. They are glad, they add, that the small village will be remembered for taking part in this agitation.

Darshan Singh, husband of the local sarpanch Parmjeet Kaur, said none of the 12 men from Tataria were at Red Fort, where protesters had assaulted police personnel and hoisted two flags — a religious one and another of the farmers union. “Either police should show us the evidence and if they don’t, they must release our men.”

Bangi Nihal Singh

The residents of Bangi Nihal Singh village find the sudden influx of local reporters and photographers to their village unusual.

Seven residents of Bangi Nihal Singh are behind bars, but that has not deterred local residents from coming together to work on sending more men to Delhi’s borders. They have also started a shift system. Every group will be in Delhi for at least a week before being relived by a second group reaching the national capital.

The seven men from the village were arrested after multiple raids on January 26.

“We are not afraid that seven of our men have been arrested. We are pooling in resources to arrange for transport. Our village will be adequately represented in Delhi,” Gurmeet Singh Bhuttar, a resident of the village.

Singh said all the seven men are farmers and members of the local Malwa Welfare Club that works for social welfare. To prove their point that none of the seven men had a criminal background, the villagers are trying to get a certificate from the Punjab police. They plan to use this to rid the tag that the men from Bangi Nihal Singh are rioters.

Deputy superintendent of police, Talwandi Sabo, Manoj Gorsi, said, “We are checking their records. We can say they are not wanted criminals here.”

Like the residents of Tataria Wala, the seven from this village had gone to Tikri on the afternoon of January 23.

Sukjit Kaur, 50, whose son Gurpender is among those arrested, said her son was not a criminal.

“Police will not even find a single complaint against my son. How can a person like that indulge in violence in Delhi?”

The villagers have formed WhatsApp groups to share updates of the police’s investigation and news reports in Delhi. Details of those in Delhi or the next group of who must relieve the people protesting in Delhi are shared regularly.

“Even if one person is taken away, there are two other willing to take his place. Such is the atmosphere here today. This is Punjab. We know how to fight for our rights,” Singh said.

Advocate Amar Veer Bhullar, who is representing some of the accused persons, said, “ Police have arrested some innocent farmers. We are in touch with all of them and will fight the case legally. “

But Delhi Police officers, privy to the investigation details, said police have arrested each person based on eye witness or photo/video evidence.

“A person could have a zero crime record but that does not mean he/she will not indulge in rioting or be part of a mob. Thousands of people had indulged in violence but we have arrested only a little over 100 persons. We are arresting only those against whom we have concrete evidence. Even in the case of people from two villages, we have evidence.

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