On 3 October 2021, four agitating farmers in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri were crushed to death by a car in which a Union minister’s son was allegedly present.
In the chaos and protests that ensued after the incident, a journalist and three others were killed too.
The incident snowballed into a controversy, investigation was fast tracked and arrests were made.
Ashish Mishra, the son of Union Minister of State (MoS) for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra, was taken into custody after 11 hours of questioning on 9 October. He was accused of not having cooperated with the investigation and was later named an accused in the case.
Months later, the government made promises to agitating farmers’ unions, based on which they called off their nation-wide year-long long demonstrations against India’s contentious, now-repealed farm laws.
One of the demands, the government then acceded to, involved compensating the kin of those killed in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence.
A year later, farmers’ unions have claimed that their demands remain unmet.
“The government had reached in an agreement with the families of farmers who died and with the protesters but most of the points in this agreement are not implemented yet,” Samyukt Kisan Morcha said in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 1 October.
Following multiple court-orders, Ashish Mishra continues to be imprisoned but the farmers are far from satisfied by how the case has progressed.
So, what transpired in the courts? Why are farmers still protesting? And what can be done to get justice for the victims?
Here’s a lowdown on everything you need to know.
A Brief Timeline of Events
3 October 2021 - Four farmers are killed after allegedly being run over by a convoy of cars including Ashish Mishra's
9 October 2021 - UP Police arrest Ashish Mishra after 11 hours of questioning
17 November 2021 - Supreme Court appoints former Punjab and Haryana High Court Judge Rakesh Kumar to monitor SIT probe constituted by UP
10 February 2022 - Allahabad High Court grants bail to Ashish Mishra
18 April 2022 - Supreme Court sets aside Allahabad High Court order and directs the High Court to reconsider his bail plea after according adequate opportunity to be heard to the victims' side
26 July 2022 - Allahabad High Court denies bail to Ashish Mishra
18 - 20 August 2022 - Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) stages 75-hour long protest to press seeking the sacking of Union Minister of State Ajay Mishra, among other demands
October 3 2022 - Farmers stage demonstrations to mark the anniversary of the incident and demand justice for the victims
Where Does the Case Against Ashish Mishra Stand Right Now?
After the Allahabad High Court rejected his bail application in July this year, Ashish Mishra challenged the decision in the Supreme Court.
Responding to this, the apex court issued notice to the Uttar Pradesh government and listed the case for hearing on 10 October.
What Has Ashish Mishra's Lawyer Said in Court?
Senior Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Mishra, has argued that although the allegations say that Ashish Mishra killed the farmers, the vehicle was driven by his driver.
Further, one of the two FIRs filed against Ashish Mishra, say that he ran out of the car and fired shots from a sugarcane field. However, the first informant eventually said that he was not an eyewitness, the senior counsel has argued.
What Has Ajay Mishra Said in His Son's Defence?
Meanwhile, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Kumar Mishra has maintained throughout that neither him nor his son Ashish Mishra was in the vehicle that allegedly ran over a group of protesters in Lakhimpur Kheri.
“My son wasn't there in the car. After the car was attacked, the driver was injured, the car lost its balance and ran over a few people present there,” Mishra told news agency ANI.
Compensation To Kin, Sack Ajay Mishra: Demands Made by Farmers
While the case against Ashish Mishra continues to be fought out in the courts, the farmers have had two central demands regarding it:
Ajay Mishra be removed from his post
Monetary compensation and a government job be given to a relative of each of the victims
Although the government accepted the latter, the former has been a point of contention throughout.
Even during deliberation with farmers over their demands at the time of calling off the farm laws protest, the government had refused to agree with sacking Ajay Mishra.
That demand was then removed from the set of proposed demands.
Pertinently, although the Union government did accept the demand about compensation to the victims’ kin and the Uttar Pradesh government announced that it would provide Rs 45 Lakh and a government job to the families of those killed, protesting farmers claim that the government is yet to act on it.
Can Anything Be Legally Done To Get the Compensation?
An application can be made to the trial court under Section 357 at an appropriate stage for compensation, Rahul Gupta, an advocate at Prashant Bhushan’s office told The Quint.
Advocate Prashant Bhushan has been representing kin of the victims in the case against Ashish Mishra.
According to Section 357 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPc), a trial court when passing a judgement, may order the payment of compensation to the persons who have suffered an injury due to the acts of the convict.
‘Ajay Mishra Needs To Be Sacked’: What Are the Allegations Against Him?
During Ashish Mishra’s bail hearing at the Allahabad High Court in May this year, the prosecution alleged that before the date of the incident, Ashish Mishra's father MoS Ajay Mishra had threatened the agitating farmers in a video which later went viral.
Enraged by this, the farmers organised a protest against the said threats and the visit of UP Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya.
The prosecution has claimed that emboldened and encouraged by the fact that central government refused to act on the objectionable statements made by the minister in that video, Ashish Mishra along with other co-accused in the case, committed the crime of mowing down the farmers in a bid to display his “dominance and hegemony."
"Union Minister's son, Ashish Mishra along with other co-accused in order to show his power, might, strength, dominance and hegemony, committed the diabolic and barbaric crime of crushing the innocent farmers staging a peaceful protest against the Union Minister of State for Home," the prosecution submitted to the Court.
After the case was sent back to them for reconsideration by the Supreme Court, the Allahabad High Court in July denied bail to the accused, including Ashish Mishra, in the case. While delivering the judgement, the court also spoke about MoS Ajay Mishra's remarks and observed:
"Political persons holding high offices, should make public utterances in a decent language considering its repercussions in the society. They should not make irresponsible statements as they are required to conduct themselves befitting their status and dignity of high office which they hold," the Bench of Justice Dinesh Kumar Singh had said.
But Can the Courts Do Something About the Demand for Sacking of the MoS?
On 3 October, farmers from across Amritsar burnt effigies, demanding justice for the victims of violence as well as sacking of MoS Ajay Mishra Teni. Farmer leaders have also stated that justice had been denied to them as Ajay Mishra continues to be a union minister.
“The minister (Ajay Kumar Mishra) needs to be sacked immediately. We will keep fighting for justice against the autocratic regime,” protesting farmers told reporters, according to The Indian Express.
The onus in this case is on the central government and falls beyond the purview of the Courts, Advocate Rahul Gupta confirmed to The Quint.
In January this year, the Special Investigating Team (SIT) filed a 5000-page chargesheet before a local court in Lakhimpur naming Union Minister Ajay Mishra's son, Ashish Mishra as the main accused. Besides this, Virendra Shukla, a relative of Ashish Mishra was also added as an accused among 13 others. The chargesheet, however, does not mention Union Minister Ajay Mishra.
‘Lakhimpur Violence a Planned Conspiracy’: SIT Probing the Case
The Special Investigation Team, headed by former Punjab and Haryana High Court Judge Rakesh Kumar had said in December 2021 that the incident was a “planned conspiracy” and not “negligence or callousness.”
In the letter, written in Hindi, SIT investigation officer Vidyaram Diwakar said that the , “The incident was a deliberate act and not of negligence or callousness," LiveLaw reported.
The SIT then moved court, asking for the 13 accused persons including Ashish, the son of junior home minister Ajay Mishra, be charged with “attempt to murder”.
Other charges that the SIT has demanded be added are those for voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons and acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention.
(With inputs from ANI, LiveLaw and Bar and Bench.)