Chaos at ITO indicates how violence spiralled: Many didn’t care about route plan, Delhi was destination

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At ITO, farmers on tractors were seen driving recklessly as policemen scrambled out of the way. (Express Photo by: Tashi Tobgyal)

Under the iconic Mahatma Gandhi portrait at the old Delhi Police headquarters at ITO, violence lasted for more than two hours as thousands of protesters — some on foot and others on tractors — clashed with police personnel who, severely outnumbered, resorted to teargas shelling and lathi charge.

A 27-year-old farmer died near Ram Charan Agarwal Chowk, allegedly when his tractor overturned, while dozens were injured on both sides.

Most of the crowd that gathered at ITO had arrived from Ghazipur border after refusing to follow the rally route of Hapur road-KGP Expressway. Protesters had earlier broken through barricades and reached Akshardham a few kilometres away.

At ITO, both sides engaged in a brief dialogue in front of the old PHQ, but with farmers adamant on going to Red Fort and police wanting them to stay put, the situation soon escalated. Amid the clash, a small group of farmers on tractors could be seen driving recklessly as policemen scrambled out of the way.

Around 1.30 pm, Navreet Singh (27), a farmer from UP’s Bajpur, was found dead. Several protesters at the spot gathered around his body. Hundreds who had gathered then uprooted roadblocks and railings near ITO Metro station while sloganeering against police before taking a right towards Red Fort, even as police teams tried to stop them on four roads.

Those who stayed back placed Singh’s body at Ram Charan Agarwal Chowk and sat around it. Manjeet Singh Binder (22), a farmer from Bilaspur, sustained injuries to his right leg. His parents and fellow farmers sat beside him, shouting slogans against the Centre and the police.

“Is this how police treat protesters? Will they kill all of us for protesting? I was among the first group of farmers to reach ITO. We weren’t told there are other routes. We wanted to march to Red Fort, so we came here and told the police that we want to protest there. But they resorted to lathi charge. A teargas shell hit my leg. I fell down and a group of three-four policemen thrashed me with lathis. Farmers then picked up the shells and threw them back,” claimed Binder.

Several protesters said they had recently joined the agitation at Ghazipur, where farmers predominantly from Uttar Pradesh had gathered, and claimed they were unaware of the proposed route map for the rally.

Pooja (27), a farmer from Bilaspur, told The Indian Express, “More than 100 people from my village joined the protest on Sunday. We were told police had allowed us to march in Delhi. Police should have made more arrangements and been patient with protesters. We don’t know who planned what. We wanted to go to Rajpath so we came here. Later, some of my friends went to Red Fort but due to the lathi charge, I had to stay here.”

Rohit Jakhad, member of the Rashtriya Jat Mahasabha, said, “We started the march late from Ghazipur border and followed others. We always wanted to march at Rajpath or Red Fort. When a group of farmers turned towards Akshardham, we joined them. Police never discussed the terms with us. Our farmer brothers have sacrificed their lives and this march was for them.”

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