Seven police officers and a senior local official have been fired in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh after footage of a violent encounter between police and two farmers went viral on social media.
The incident took place in the state’s Guna district on July 14, as authorities attempted to clear the farmers from land that the government had marked as the site for a new college, according to a statement from the district administration.
Video of the incident shows police striking a man while a woman tries to stop the officers, as onlookers and children cry nearby.
At some point during the ordeal, the victims, a married couple, consumed pesticides in protest of their removal. It is not clear for how long they had been living and farming on the land.
The two individuals are now in stable condition, S. Vishwanathan, the head of the Guna district administration, said on Wednesday. Vishwanathan said in a video posted to Twitter by the state’s public affairs department that the couple had refused to be taken to the hospital after drinking the pesticides, which forced police to “take control of the situation.”
Vishwanathan and the superintendent of police have since been removed from their posts by the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister and a probe has been ordered into the incident, the department said. Six other police officers were also removed from their posts.
Both of the victims are Dalits, the caste often referred to as “untouchables” in India. India’s caste system was officially abolished in 1950, but the 2,000-year-old social hierarchy imposed on people by birth still exists in many aspects of life. The caste system categorizes Hindus at birth, defining their place in society, what jobs they can do and who they can marry. Dalits are considered the “lowest” class and still face widespread discrimination despite laws that have been passed to protect them.
The incident has prompted outrage across the country, including from ministers of the governing party in the state and other high-ranking politicians.
“I am distressed after watching the video of the incident in Guna. Such unfortunate incidents should be avoided,” the state’s home and law minister, Narottam Mishra, tweeted on Wednesday.
“Action will be taken against whoever is found guilty,” he wrote.
In a post on social media, prominent Dalit leader and politician Mayawati said: “In the name of an anti-encroachment drive, the Guna police and administration destroyed the crop that the Dalit family had produced by taking a loan, and left them with no choice but to try to commit suicide, which is cruel and shameful. There should be a nationwide condemnation of this incident. The government should take strict action.”
Rahul Gandhi, a scion of the India’s most famous political family and a senior leader within the opposition Congress Party, shared a video of the incident along with a message: “Our fight is against this mindset and injustice.”