"He had a big bruise at the back of his neck, it was like a knot. There were bruises on the back and the legs as well. When he said that he was feeling dizzy, I suggested we take him to a hospital but he said that it's not that serious. After we reached home, his mother got him turmeric milk. He said that he did not feel like eating dinner and wanted to sleep after drinking the milk. He did not wake up in the morning," said Bablu Pannu, a fellow villager, recounting the last moments of 45-year-old farmer Sushil Kajal's life.
A farmer from Karnal's Raipur Jattan village, Sushil died of a heart attack in his sleep after being lathi-charged by the Haryana Police as it clashed with farmers protesting against the Centre's three farm laws and Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar on Saturday, 28 August.
While Karnal SP Ganga Ram Punia said that his death was not related to the injuries sustained in the clashes, Sushil's friends, family, and the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leaders believed otherwise.
'Sushil Refused to Go to the Hospital'
Pannu had dropped Sushil to the protest site on Saturday morning on his bike and had left for some personal work. When he returned hours later, he found Sushil bruised, bloodied, and soiled.
"I asked him why his clothes were soiled. He said that the police had resorted to lathi charge and he fell while trying to flee. I asked him if he was in pain, but he said that he was alright. Later, he said that it was hurting in places where he was hit and he was feeling dizzy. I got him painkillers from a medical store on the way," Pannu told The Quint.
"He refused to go to the hospital. He said that the injuries weren't that serious and he would just take some painkillers," Pannu added.
He brought Sushil back home on his bike and was shocked to wake up to the news of his death the next morning.
Paramjeet Singh, a fellow protester from the same village was present at the site when the crackdown happened.
"There were some farmers who fled to the nearby fields after the clashes began. Sushil was one of them. The police followed them there and thrashed them with lathis. He later went home and was very upset is what I was told," Singh told The Quint.
Singh said that he was briefly detained by the police and had returned to the village only later in the evening.
'Sushil Used to Worry for the Farmers' Movement'
Survived by his mother, wife Sudesh Devi, son Sahil and daughter Annu, Sushil was an active and regular participant of the anti-farm laws protests ever since they began nine months ago. Both his children are married. The family is still in shock at his sudden demise and has refused to talk to the media so far.
"We knew each other since we were kids. We grew up together, we played together. He did not have bad blood with anybody, he was a good man. The family is still in a shock," said Ravinder Kajal, who lives next door and has known Sushil and his family for decades.
Sushil, Ravinder said, was worried about the farmers' movement and the farm laws.
"He used to be worried about how the movement would go. I would assure him that all would be well. We had such conversations several times. He was a part of the movement for the past nine months. He went to the protests almost daily," Kajal told The Quint.
Sushil was also facing some financial troubles, according to Ravinder.
"He had 1.5 acres of land, how much do you think his income was? He hardly earned Rs 20,000 per annum. He had loans to be paid off – bank loans, moneylenders' loans. The loans sum up to about Rs 8-10 lakh. His son is still unemployed. He's merely 21-22 years old," Ravinder claimed.
Why No Post-mortem?
Speaking to The Quint, BKU leader Jagdeep Singh Aulakh said that not conducting the post-mortem before cremating Sushil Kajal was the biggest "tragedy" that took place.
"There were several bruises on his body. He had a swollen belly. There is a possibility that there was internal bleeding. He had an injury at the back of his head as well that was swollen," Aulakh claimed.
"The village folks are innocent. After he didn't wake up in the morning and they realised he had passed away, they conducted the last rites. In such situations, people usually believe in performing the last rites as soon as possible. No discussion on the matter could take place as many people were injured. Not everybody knew about it or could gather in time to discuss. The biggest tragedy here is that we could not conduct a post-mortem before the last rites were performed. But his death was due to lathi-charge. He was a healthy man otherwise and had no health issues. The injuries he received were severe," he said.
Aulakh further alleged that many injured were not allowed to be taken to the hospital on Saturday by the police, and those who managed to go were not issued the medico-legal reports (MLR).
"They discharged people that day without issuing the MLRs. The MLRs were issued the next day when we took the injured to the hospital. Before that, Sushil had passed away and was laid to rest," he said.
According to reports, at least 40 farmers got their medico-legal reports (MLR) prepared from the civil hospital. Meanwhile, two FIRs were filed against the protesting farmers over the clashes that took place on 28 August.
Karnal SP Ganga Ram Punia on Sunday told ANI, "He (Sushil) did not visit any hospital. He went home in a stable condition and died in his sleep. Some are saying he died due to a heart attack. Reports of him dying due to injuries received during force used by the police are false."
Reacting to Punia's comments, Aulakh said that the police and the government would defend themselves even if they fire bullets at the protesters.
"The government has to defend itself. One of our men was martyred today, at least 600 have been martyred in the past. They will kill as many as they want with bullets as well, and will still defend their actions. We cannot believe what they say. Why will they ever admit to what they have done? Even the chief minister will keep defending the atrocities being committed against the protesters," Aulakh said.
In a joint meeting held on Monday, 30 August, several farmer's unions demanded a compensation of Rs 25 lakh to be given to Sushil Kajal's family and a government job for his son.