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Despite winning the President’s award for constantly rising agricultural growth rate, MP has been witnessing recurring farmer agitations for past year

The Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government in Madhya Pradesh may be spending crores each year to advertise its success in pushing up the state’s agricultural growth rate but its police seems to have no patience for farmers protesting against failing crops and rising loan burden.

On Tuesday, a group of farmers in the state’s Tikamgarh district, that is part of Bundelkhand which is known for its poverty and long spells of drought, were tear-gassed and lathi-charged by the police as their protest turned violent after they failed to meet district collector Abhijeet Aggarwal to hand him a list of demands.

While the police managed to disperse the agitating farmers, its high-handedness didn’t end at just the use of tear-gas shells, water cannons and sticks. A group of farmers was allegedly detained by the police and made to disrobe while they were holed up in a police station.

Sources said that the agitating farmers, backed by the Congress party, had reached the office of the district collector to demand among other things that Tikamgarh be declared as a drought-hit district in wake of this year’s poor monsoon in the region and that they state government announce a loan waiver for farmers who had lost their crops for yet another year.

The Bundelkhand region, spread across 14 districts of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, is one of the most severely drought affected areas of India. Whith the exception of Vidisha, the remaining six Bundelkhand districts that fall in MP – Tikamgarh, Sagar, Damoh, Panna, Datia and Chhatarpur – which have an economy that is heavily reliant on agriculture constantly fall prey either to drought or unseasonal, excessive rainfall which destroys crops year after year.

For the past five years now, Tikamgarh had not received a proposer monsoon and has been grappling with horrors brought on by drought-like situations – distress migration, farmer suicides, poverty, etc.

Former Congress MLA from Tikamgarh, Yadvendra Singh said that on Tuesday, the farmers had gathered outside collector Aggarwal’s office to demand that the administration declare the district as drought-hit. “However, despite waiting outside the collector’s office for almost an hour, Aggarwal did not step out to meet the farmers and the Congress delegation that was led by leader of Opposition Ajay Singh. The protesters then lost their patience and began shouting slogans,” Yadvendra Singh said.

The former Congress MLA claimed that at least 30 farmers were injured in the police lathi-charge . He added: “I received information that around 30-40 farmers had also been detained by the police at the Dehat police station. I went there and found that the police had beaten up the farmers and forced them to strip down to their undergarments. The farmers were kept in the police lock-up.”

Congress MP Jyotiraditya Scindia, who is likely to be the next Madhya Pradesh Congress Committee chief said: “The manner in which the farmers were beaten up and made to strip shows the insensitivity of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government. On the one hand the Chouhan government hails the farmers for the state’s unprecedented and constantly rising agricultural growth and on the other hand it unleashes the police to rain down lathis on agitating farmers.”

The Congress is set to file a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission and its state unit against the police brutalities on the farmers and also present photographs and videos of the alleged atrocities to back its claims.

Tikamgarh superintendent of police Kumar Prateek has, meanwhile, claimed that the protestors had turned violent and the police action was merely meant to disperse the crowd and prevent disruption of law and order. He said that the farmers had resorted to pelting stones and that eight cops were injured in the process but denied knowledge of the farmers being disrobed while they were under police detention.

This isn’t the first time that farmers have launched a massive protest in the state and drawn in the support of the Congress which has been desperately trying to revive its political fortunes in the state where it has been kept out of power by the BJP since 2003.

Between February 2016 and mid-February 2017, 1,982 farmers and farm labourers have reportedly committed suicide in the state – this figure accounts for one-fifth of the total suicides registered in the state.

In June this year a massive farmer agitation broke out in the state’s Mandsaur district. Then too reports of police brutalities on the farmers had made headlines in the local media after at least five farmers had been killed in incidents of police firing.

Curiously, despite the recurring protests by farmers across Madhya Pradesh, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government has been persistently winning the Krishi Karman award given annually by the President of India to states for registering the highest agricultural growth.

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