Madhya Pradesh – The case of Multai Police Firing

November 11, 2012

by Sunilam

Click here to read the article in Hindi

Now it is well-known that on 12 January 1998, the then Chief Minister of the Congress government in Madhya Pradesh, Digvijay Singh had ordered police firing, in a conspiracy to assassinate me and crush the farmers’ agitation for the compensation of the crop failure in Multai. 24 farmers were killed and 150 injured. The government did not take cognizance of the demand for action against the responsible officials – the District Magistrate and the Superintend of Police — for firing, the state Government filed 66 fake cases against me and 250 farmers. We continue to face in the court the cases under the charges of murder, attempt to murder, arson and loot etc. since 12 January 1998. The judgment was due on 10th October 2012, but it has been postponed to 18 October as the concerned Magistrate has gone on leave. Court will deliver the judgment based on the testimonies of witnesses, arguments and pleadings of lawyers, but it is pertinent to discuss the issues emerging out of the Multai police firing.

After the barbaric act against the farmers, government ritualistically suspended the DM and the SP responsible for firing and instituted a judicial inquiry.

After the formalities, not only these officials were reinstated but were promoted too, as a reward for killing and injuring the farmers peacefully protesting for their rights, thus giving a clear message to the IAS and IPS official that the government will protect and promote them if they conduct massacre of anti-government protesters for their rights, more so if they are the farmers or agricultural laborers. The point is that why instead of engaging the protesting farmers in dialogues, the government preferred to kill and seriously injure them. Constitutionally, the IAS and IPS officials are not appointed to indiscriminately kill these people who become inconvenient to the ruling party’s anti-people policies. Ideally, both the officials must have been summarily dismissed and prosecuted to give the clear message that no administrative or police official would be allowed to take the law into their hands and they would not be allowed to kill unarmed farmers & no official indulging in the killing of innocents would be spared.

In thousands of police firings in the country, over 55 thousand unarmed innocent citizens have lost their lives. After every police firing the ritual of a judicial inquiry is observed. Same happened in Multai Police firing. The judicial inquiry commission was constituted under the District- session court’s judge, PC Agrawal. The farmers did not cooperate with this commission, as they have been demanding the inquiry by the judges of the Supreme Court. They did not expect justice from government appointed commission under a judge as in the past he had submitted a report that saved the government and implicated the protesters. The report was neither discussed in the state assembly nor was any case registered against the accused police personnel. On the contrary, on the basis of the report the government opined that after any police firing the accused officials should not be suspended before the inquiry is completed. The farmers suspect that the concerned judge was elevated to the position of the judge in the high court after the submission of the report. A perusal of the report makes it clear that it was prepared with the explicit purpose of implicating me and giving clean chit to the guilty officials. Under the RTI Act, I demanded the copy of the judicial inquiry report from the department of the general administration of the government 2 years ago, that has not been made available to me as yet. Informally the officials have told that the report has been lost. This is the government attitude towards such serious issues.

Seeing the miserable state and the callousness of such commissions, it is high time some alternative devices are evolved for the inquiry into such cases. The inquiry should be such that the guilty officials fear it and are not allowed to mislead. It must be ensured that the officer heading the inquiry must not be rewarded on the basis of its report. Many such cases have come to public notice in which the officials conducting the inquiry are removed in the middle of the process, as they were being impartial and were not prepared to act as the puppet in the hands of the government.

After the brutal police action on 12 January 1998, I was arrested and tortured to the extent that I lost my senses. When I would gain consciousness, I would be again beaten by batons, boots and belts till I lost consciousness again. I was handcuffed and shackled and was kept without food and water. Fake encounter to eliminate me were attempted at. I wrote these details and sent them not only to the court but also wrote letters to the Prime minister, Chief Minister and the National Human Rights Commission from the jail. But as yet no agency has initiated any inquiry into the matter. On the 3rd day of the arrest myself and 250 farmers were produced before the magistrate and we were sent to jail and 66 fake cases under various Acts of IPC were leveled against us. No one objected to 66 cases in one incidence. And no cognizance was taken to our objections. According to a judgment of the full bench of the Andhra Pradesh High Court, in case of any death in police action, cases against the officials must be registered and they must be produced in a court of law. In this cases 24 innocent farmers were killed but no case was registered against any guilty official. A student Rishi Sahu, was shot dead in the broad day light while playing cricket in a ground while Rawat was dragged from the shop and killed. No cases were registered against the killers.

It is not only the matter of Multai farmers against whom the fake cases are registered. Wherever there are peoples’ movements, disregarding the demands of the agitation, number of fake cases are slammed on the leaders and activists and they are invariably sent to jails. Unless the provisions to punish the officials registering fake cases and fake witnesses are made this trend will continue with impurity.

The issue of the fake cases is directly related to the misuse of the police for vested political interests. The political party in power uses the police as its political tool. The envisioned answerability of police to the constitutional provisions and the provisions of the Indian Penal code are set aside and the role of police is reduced to carry on the orders of the ruling party leaders. The police is free neither to register the cases against the erring officials nor to impartially inquire into the cases. If 66 cases imposed on the agitators in Multai episode is probed impractically, it would become clear that all of them are baseless and fake. But the police was used to manage the fake witnesses. The whole inquiry was aimed at implicating me and my fellow agitators. Despite all this, police was unable to present all the charges in the court. How many charges were dismissed or withdrawn is not intimated to us. When the acts of fake charges were condemned in various quarters, the government began to withdraw the charges. It is interesting to note that the government was pretending to withdraw the cases in the public interest on the one hand, and the public prosecutor was indirectly opposing its own application in the court, on the other hand.

After 10 years of the Congress rule when, BIP government came to power, the then Chief minister, Uma Bharati told me in the assembly that severe wrongs have been done to me and that the justice shall be done to the farmers. That day she announced the withdrawal of the fake cases against me and the farmers. In the past 9 years the BJP government has withdrawn 75 thousand cases but withdrawal of any case against the Multai farmers did not go beyond the lip service.

The dual characters of the political parties are clearly manifested in this episode. After the firing the issue was debated in the Assembly for many hours. 10 BJP members who are ministers now, had then demanded swift action against the guilty officials, withdrawal of the fake cases against the farmers and timely compensation and insurance for their crops. They had also demanded construction of memorials of the martyred farmers. But even after 9 years in power, none of these ministers have bothered about the plight of the farmers. No serious action has been taken by the BJP government on any of those demands, orchestrated by them, when they were in opposition.

At the time of elections, the political parties raise the issues of the farmers’ plight for electoral gains. BJP printed and pasted posters of the martyrs of Multai and forgot the plight of their kith and kin after coming to power. Not only this, the BJP government has not yet granted the permission for the construction of memorial pillars of the martyrs despite my offering Rs. 20 lakhs from my MLA fund. Rahul Gandhi, the Congress general secretary raised the issue of the suicide by the Vidarbh farmers in the Parliament to the roaring applause by the minions and zealots of the Congress, but the condition of the Vidarbha farmers remains the same. Recently, Sonia Gandhi in an election rally in Gujarat, expressed solidarity with the farmers and accused the BJP government of firing at the farmers agitating for their legitimate demands. But she does not utter a word about firing at farmers by Congress governments.

The political parties have not been able to address the issues of compensation to farmers for the crop failures and the insurance of the crops. Now the government is contemplating FDI in the insurance sector. If the insurance for the crops is not paid by Indian companies, the state of affairs in the dominance of dubious foreign companies is anybody’s guess. When the government policy of development is based on the destruction of the villages, the agriculture and the farmers, the justice to the farmers shall remain an illusion. With corporate dictated model of the development and the Welfarism of the state becoming a farce, it seems imminent that the governments shall become more and more repressive against the farmers. The misery of the farmers is the consequence of the governments’ neo-liberal policies with the dominance of the market and the consumerism.

Justice delayed is justice denied. In the name of justice the farmers of the Multai have been running around the courts for the last 14 years. Individual farmers have been warranted and arrested time and again in this period. The courts have been unable to summon the prosecution witnesses for over a decade now. The session court trials were conducted like summary trials. Whenever a judge came close to comprehend the case, he/she was transferred. No political party, institution or organization came forward with the offer of any legal help to the farmers to help them in their routine legal battle, they have been trapped into. Advocate Aradhna Bhargav, for the last 15 years, has been, conscientiously and voluntarily representing them and fighting their court cases. Whatever be the verdict on 18 October (if it is not further postponed), since last 15 years, the farmers of Multai are still struggling for finding the answers of the issues emanating from their agitation and police firing aimed at killing them and 24 farmers were killed. These martyrs are seeking answers.