A raw deal

November 15, 2020

The police and the Pakistan Kisan Ittehad have vastly divergent accounts of how two farmers died following police action to break a street protest in Lahore

The PKI has vowed to hold a fresh round of protest demonstrations beginning Sunday (today), if the police officers involved aren’t “taken to task”. — Photos by Rahat Dar

Early this month, a street protest by members of the Pakistan Kisan Ittehad (PKI) at Thokar Niaz Baig grabbed media headlines after two of the protesters from Burewala died following police action to break up the rally. Some PKI leaders claimed that the police had employed an unlawful method of crowd control.

The PKI has since been calling for action against the police. The allegation is apparently based on a video which went viral on social media. It featured a police officer shouting orders to his subordinates to shower the agitator with “chemical-laced water.”

The PKI has vowed to launch a fresh round of protests beginning Sunday (today), if those involved aren’t “taken to task”. Some of the protesters have claimed that they the water sprayed on them caused severe itching, temporary blindness, sore eyes, nausea and suffocation.

Senior police officials as well as Law Minister Basharat Raja have rejected the allegations. SP Saddar Hafizur Rehman Magsi told TNS that he had “not ordered my subordinates to use chemical-laced water against the agitators. I only instructed them to use the dye [in water cannons].

“The protesters, wanting to proceed to The Mall, were blocking the roads and causing severe inconvenience to the travelling public. They were throwing stones and damaging pubic property, chiefly vehicles. I was there to establish the writ of the state,” Magsi added.

The SP also said that none of the PKI leaders had been seriously injured or killed in the police action.

For the uninitiated, a water cannon is managed by a three-member team comprising an operator, a driver and another constable. An officer of the rank of inspector or sub-inspector from the district police lines commands the team. The police are not allowed to use a harmful chemical; they only use two dyes — blue and green — in water, in order to later differentiate the protesters from the general public.

The story so far

A group of farmers belonging to various districts of the Punjab had gathered at Thokar Niaz Baig to demand acceptance of their demands related to setting the support price of wheat and sugarcane at Rs 2,000 and Rs 300 (per 40 kg), respectively, and introducing a Rs 5 per unit electricity tariff for farm tubewells. In a late-night operation to disperse the protesters the police used teargas and water cannons.

According to Malik Zulfiqar Awan, the PKI president, “The city police are misleading the government by claiming that their leaders died of cardiac arrest. Both [Langrial and Ahmed] were killed at the hands of the police resorting to criminal use of a toxic chemical-laced water.

A PKI leader named Ashfaq Langrial, who hailed from a village in Burewala (Chak 150 ED), was later found lying unconscious. It has been variously alleged that he was hit by a police baton, inhaled too much teargas or was affected by the water-borne toxin. He was taken to Jinnah Hospital the next day where he passed away.

The police filed a case against 187 protesters, including 40 unidentified people, under several offences including violation of Covid-related SOPs and terrorism.

Another protester, Manzoor Ahmed from Burewala’s Chak 333 died later, also allegedly as a result of injuries sustained in the police action.

The police filed a case against 187 protesters, including 40 unidentified people, under several offences including violation of Covid-related SOPs and terrorism.

Some opposition parties seized the opportunity and expressed solidarity with the protesting farmers. The Provincial Assembly saw complete mayhem for three consecutive sessions as the opposition and treasury benches exchanged hot words on the issue. Chanting “Ghunda gardi ki sarkar nahi chalay gi,” the opposition members called for immediate action against the police.

Talking to TNS, PML-N MPA Awais Leghari said, “We are deeply concerned about the unwarranted and brutal police action against the poor farmers who are major contributors to the country’s economy.”

Leghari mentioned the video on the social media, saying a senior police officer could be seen giving instructions to the force to stop the farmers from approaching The Mall, by hook or by crook. “We don’t have faith left in the government,” he said. “We demand the formation of a judicial commission to look into the matter. The water used by the police should also be tested at a forensic laboratory to ascertain the facts.”

Malik Zulfiqar Awan, the president of PKI, said, “The city police are misleading the government and the civil society by saying that the protesters leaders died from cardiac arrest. Both [Langrial and Ahmed] were killed at the hands of the police who resorted to criminal use of toxin-laced water.”

Referring to the video clip doing the social media rounds, he demanded immediate arrest of the Saddar SP and the removal of the Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Umar Sheikh.

The writer is a senior journalist and can be reached at

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A raw deal