Karnal Sub-Divisional Magistrate Ayush Sinha was caught on camera instructing police officers to hit farmers on their heads if they tried to breach a certain barricade during their protest against Bharatiya Janata Party leaders in Haryana on Saturday.

“See, your duty is very simple, whoever he is, wherever he is from, no one should be allowed to reach there,” Sinha tells a group of policemen in a widely shared video on social media. “Let me state clearly, just smash their [farmers] heads [if they break the cordon].”

Several political leaders, including BJP’s Varun Gandhi, criticised the Indian Administrative Service officer’s comments. “I hope this video is edited and the DM did not say this,” Gandhi tweeted. “Otherwise, this is unacceptable in democratic India to do to our own citizens.”

At least 10 farmers were injured after the state police baton-charged them at the Bastara toll plaza near Karnal. The farmers, protesting against the government’s three agricultural laws, had blocked several stretches on the national highway, resulting in traffic jams.

The Samyukta Kisan Morcha, an umbrella body of over 40 protesting farmer unions, condemned the police brutality and demanded that Sinha be suspended for making such comments.

Sinha, however, told ANI that “stone pelting had started at many places” during the protest and therefore the police was asked to “use force proportionately”.

Officials also tried to justify his comments, claiming that he “did not say anything wrong and was just doing his duty at the time of such pressure”, The Indian Express reported.

Sinha told the newspaper that he was on duty at the final checkpost, which was very close to a meeting chaired by Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar to discuss the upcoming panchayat elections.

“If any element was to reach there, he would have already breached two nakas [checkposts] before it,” he added. “The third naka was very close to the meeting venue. There was a high possibility that any breach of the third naka would have led to vandalisation, and also certain unscrupulous elements were part of these protesting groups. It could have been a security threat.”

The officer also claimed that the videos being shared on social media were doctored and had selected bits of his orders. “I was briefing them [the policemen] on the procedure, a checklist as per provisions under the CrPC [Code of Criminal Procedure],” he told The Indian Express. “I told them that we would give them [protestors] warnings, followed by use of water cannons, announcement of tear gas firing and then lathicharge, if need be.”

Congress General Secretary Randeep Surjewala accused the Haryana government of behaving like Reginald Edward Harry Dyer – the British army officer responsible for the 1919 Jalianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi shared a photo of an injured protestor with blood-stained clothes. “The blood of farmers has been shed again and the country bows its head in shame,” he tweeted.