Holding the green flag that has become the symbol of protesting farmers in Amaravati, Kiran Naik lifted his shirt to display the bruises on his hips. Weeping, the speech-challenged farmer used sign language to describe the beating he had received from the police last month in the agricultural area that has been earmarked for the construction of a new capital for Andhra Pradesh.
Naik and thousands of farmers from 29 villages in the area have been staging protests for just over 40 days against a move they see as a betrayal of the promise of development that was held out to them when they gave over 30,000 acres for the new capital.
As is the case with the demonstrations against the Citizenship Amendment Act across India, hundreds of women have joined the agitation. But some of the protests have been met with such immense police brutality, the Andhra Pradesh High Court took up the matter voluntarily on January 13 and directed the state government to ensure that the rights of residents were not violated.
Change of plan
The farmers had given up their land after Andhra Pradesh was forced to build a new headquarters for its government after the state was bifurcated in 2014. The old capital of Hyderabad was handed over to the newly formed state of Telangana.
But on December 17, Chief Minister Jaganmohan Reddy – whose YSR Congress party won the state elections held in April and May, defeating the Telugu Desam Party – announced that Andhra Pradesh would actually have three capitals. While Amaravati will become the legislative capital, Kurnool will be the judicial capital and Vishakapatnam will be the executive capital.
When the Telugu Desam Party blocked this decision in the Legislative Council, the Reddy government passed a resolution in the Legislative Assembly on Monday to dissolve the council.
Farmers such as Kiran Naik had signed up for a land pooling scheme that promised to raise the value of their agricultural plots after it was transformed into urban real estate. They believe that the new three-capital plan leaves them short-changed.
Said Kiran Naik’s father Loka Naik, who lives with his son in Velagapudi village, “He had one acre on his name and gave it to the government...They want to change the capital and have ruined his life.”
Kiran Naik said he was hit by the police during a demonstration in his village on December 27. But he and other farmers in the 29 villages are in no mood to give up their fight. They are battling to ensure the rights of future generations, they say.
On Monday, as men of the Tulluru village were speaking to two television crews that had come to cover the protests, 70-year-old Venkata Susheela drew their attention by silently by raising her sari to her knees. She showed them the bruises that remained from a police baton charge on the afternoon of January 10.
She has been suffering from acute knee pain since then. “Do I look like a threat to the government?” she asked, unable to stand without the help of younger women.
Susheehla and women from several villages in the Tulluru mandal had been hit by the police when they were marching to the local Durga temple. “The government has given up on us,” she said. “Who else can we petition? There is only god.”
Many of the women were dragged, beaten and then detained for several hours. The police accused them of violating prohibitory orders under Section 144, which has been in place in the area for over a month now.
Annapurna, a 57-year-old farmer, joined Susheela to show the bruises she had received from the police beating. In her case, the police baton seems to have had been embedded with a nail, which pieced her shin. “How can they allow men police to beat women?” she asked, bursting out in tears.
The two women said that the police action has only strengthened their resolve to carry on their fight.
In Mandadam, about 2 km from Tulluru, women said police charged into a private plot. The farmers claimed the village had given about 5,000 acres of land for the land pooling scheme. Under the scheme, the farmers said the state government promised to build infrastructure such as roads and drainage systems on 25% of the land that they had voluntarily given up. The plots would then be returned to the farmers. Because of the new infrastructure, the value of the land would be have risen.
After the Jagan Reddy government took over, most of the infrastructure works has come to a halt. It claimed that its decision to create three capitals instead of one would spark development across more regions of the state.
But farmers in Amaravati worry that since only the state assembly will be located in their city, the government will not build all the infrastructure it has promised. Besides, since only the Assembly will function out of the new city, there will be no incentive for businesses to open shop in the area. “The Assembly convenes hardly for a few days in a year,” one farmer said.
The farmers worry that eventually, the government will try to give back the land to them without having developed it. But since construction is halfway complete, the land is no longer fit for cultivation.
Detention and cases
In Krishnayapalem, Mandadam and Velagapudi, farmers said that the police have been filed cases against several protestors. Some of them were also arrested by the police and remanded. The farmers said cases included charges of attacking the media, which they vehemently denied.
Nageswara Rao, a farmer, showed a remand slip he was given in Guntur jail. Sections under the Indian Penal Code mentioned include 323 (voluntarily causes hurt), 506 (criminal intimidation), 427 (mischief causing damage of over Rs 50) and 37 (coordinated offences).
“We have never had any intention of indulging in violence,” the farmer said, accusing the police of filing cases to bring the protests to a halt.
Scroll.in reviewed three of these First Information Reports filed after incidents on December 27. In them, the police have named the accused as “some persons” and “fifty persons”. The farmers alleged these vague descriptions allow the police to detain anyone they want.
In Mandadam, from where a video of a flag march of the police through the village went viral on Whatsapp, farmers said drones were used to keep a watch on them. Barbed wire was unspooled to restrict access. “The police made us show our Aadhaar card to move around in our own village,” said Rajesh, a farmer.
The farmers said the attack was so violent that women were kicked in the stomach. A woman named Srilakshmi had to be taken to the hospital, the protestors claimed, showing photos of the woman that appeared in Telugu newspapers.
Since temples had become sites of protest, the police locked up some of the shrines. “It was only after the High Court order these things stopped,” said the farmers.
Media reports about the violence on the women led to the Andhra Pradesh High Court taking up the matter suo motu on January 13. The court building is located only a few kilometres from the spot where the police had conducted its charge against the women.
In its order, the court said that prima facie, the police violence and the manner in which Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code was used was a “violation of right to peacefully agitate on any issue against the government guaranteed under Article 19(1) of the Constitution of India”.
The court directed the administration to allow peaceful demonstrations to be conducted and said that the right to worship should not be violated. The judges asked the government to provide medical attention to those hurt and asked for a reply on why action should not be initiated against officers for what had transpired on January 10.
Venkatesa Reddy, an 80-year-old farmer, said the court coming to their rescue was an act of god. “We have faith that we will eventually succeed,” he said.
Scroll.in made several attempts to contact Guntur Rural Superintendent of Police Vijaya Rao over the phone and sent him text messages but he did not reply. This report will be updated if he responds.
Police officers on duty in the area said the baton charge was a reaction to the farmers attacking the police, in which several officers were injured. The farmers denied these charges.