‘Will anyone care about a mere driver’s life?’: Lakhimpur driver worked for Ajay Mishra for 6 years

Hari Om, who died on October 3, was one of the sole breadwinners for his family of 10.

‘Will anyone care about a mere driver’s life?’: Lakhimpur driver worked for Ajay Mishra for 6 years
Hari Om and minister Ajay Kumar Mishra.
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A new video clip has shown that the three vehicles that rammed into protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri on October 3 had no intention of slowing down for the crowd. It is alleged that Ashish Mishra, the son of union minister Ajay Kumar Mishra, was in one of these vehicles.

One of the vehicles was a Mahindra Thar. The video footage showed a man in a pale yellow shirt in the driver’s seat. The Thar was the first vehicle in the convoy to run over the farmers at 4 pm that day.

Ajay Kumar Mishra later confirmed that the Thar belonged to him and is registered under his family’s name.

On the same day at around 2.15 pm, Ashish Mishra gave a speech at a wrestling match in his father’s village of Banveerpur, around two km from where the incident took place. Eyewitnesses showed Newslaundry video footage of the speech.

Standing a little away from Mishra is a man in a pale yellow shirt.

This man is Hari Om, 31, a driver who had been working for the minister for the last six years. His identity was confirmed by his family.

But given that the pictures are extremely blurry, it's hard to ascertain for sure whether the person in the first video is Hari Om too.

(top) A screengrab from the video taken at the wrestling match. (bottom) A screengrab of the driver of the Thar.

(top) A screengrab from the video taken at the wrestling match. (bottom) A screengrab of the driver of the Thar.

Hari Om's cousin Rajnikanth Mishra.

Hari Om's cousin Rajnikanth Mishra.

Hari Om died during the violence that broke out in Lakhimpur Kheri after the convoy of vehicles mowed down the farmers. Seven others died that day: four farmers, two BJP workers, and a journalist.

A day later, the minister made a phone call to Hari Om’s cousin Rajnikanth Mishra. According to Rajnikanth, the minister said, “Don’t worry. I’ll give you Rs 1 lakh when your sister has to get married.”

At Hari Om’s home in Parsehra village, his father now lies on a charpoy. He has no idea that his son is now dead.

The incident

On September 30, Hari Om left his family’s home in Parsehra. It’s a two-bedroom brick house, with three charpoys in the courtyard alongside a few plastic chairs, utensils and an earthen stove. Ten people live here, including Hari Om’s parents and his three sisters, their kids and his brother, and their poverty is evident.

Hari Om himself lived in Ajay Kumar Mishra’s house in Banveerpur, around 93 km away, coming home once a week with medicines and money for his family.

At Hari Om’s house in Parsehra area of Lakhimpur Kheri, a blue portable commode chair stood in the corner. Three charpoys lie in the courtyard along with some clothes, cow dung cakes, a few plastic chairs, utensils and an earthen stove.

At around 10 am on October 3, Hari Om called his mother and promised her that he would bring back medicines for his father. That was the day he attended the wrestling match with Ashish Mishra, as confirmed by video footage from eyewitnesses.

At 6 pm, his family tried to call him but his phone was switched off.

The family spent nine hours frantically trying to locate him. The panic first set in when Hari Om’s uncle informed the family that violence was taking place and Ashish Mishra’s name was involved. “Our uncle saw it on the TV and told us,” said Maheshwari Mishra, Hari Om’s sister.

That’s when they began frantically watching TV for updates and making calls to whoever they thought could help. Finally, at 1 am on October 4, Rajnikanth Mishra and Hari Om’s uncle went to the district hospital at Lakhimpur Kheri town. There, Rajnikanth recognised his cousin’s body.

Later that morning, Rajnikanth called Hari Om’s mother and told her that her son was dead. His body was taken to his family’s home at 11 am.

‘He spent most of his time with Ashish Mishra’

Hari Om worked as Ajay Kumar Mishra’s personal driver for about five years. When the minister was appointed a different driver in the past year, Hari Om took over as the Mishra family’s driver.

“He spent most of his time with Ashish Mishra and helped their family with household things,” said Rajnikanth.

Hari Om was introduced to Ajay Kumar Mishra through his uncle, a local BJP worker. Rajnikanth said Hari Om’s family is “very poor” and he also has three sisters to look after. His father is unwell and bedridden, and his medicines are also “very expensive”.

“That’s why he took up this job,” Rajnikanth said. “It was not because of his political leanings.”

Hari Om earned around Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000 per month. He has a younger brother, Sri Ram, who would stay home and look after their father. “He needs full-time care,” Sri Ram explained, “so I decided to stay home and look after him while my brother worked.” Of his three sisters, two are married while the youngest, 23-year-old Maheshwari, has completed her undergraduate degree – the only one among the five siblings to do so.

Hari Om's father.

Hari Om's father.

The family's home in Parsehra.

The family's home in Parsehra.

“Hari Om dropped out of school very early. He can barely read,” Maheshwari said. “Papa’s health deteriorated when Hari was very young and so he had to stop studying and feed the family. But he made sure that I would study. He really wanted at least one of us to be educated.”

His mother told Newslaundry that Hari Om was her strength. “I myself have trouble walking and cannot move much,” she said. “Hari Om was the one that ran this house.”

Anger and desperation

His family believes there is no way Hari Om could have run over the protesters.

“My son was a very gentle man,” said his mother. “He worked hard, he was principled, he didn’t drink and stopped other people from smoking if he could. He could not have done what I saw in those videos.”

In the six years that Hari Om has worked for Ajay Kumar Mishra, the minister has never visited their house. “He did come for our sister’s wedding once,” said Rajnikanth.

Ashish Mishra has not spoken to the family since the incident. The minister told the family he would visit them on October 5 but never showed up. On October 4, Rajnikanth spoke to him on the phone where the minister promised Rs 1 lakh for Maheshwari’s wedding.

Did the family ask the minister for help with their father’s medicine or better living conditions? Rajnikanth replied, “Why will anyone turn around and care about a mere driver’s life?”

Hari Om’s mother repeatedly insisted that her son should not be called a BJP worker. She explained that while the family is an ardent supporter of the BJP, Hari Om chose to work for the minister simply because he desperately needed a job.

Meanwhile, the family is very angry with the farmers’ protest. “This is not a farmers’ protest. We are also farmers, we’re not protesting right?” said Rajnikanth. “This is a fight between Sikhs and Hindus. I will not call them farmers.”

Newslaundry reached out to both Ajay Kumar Mishra and his son Ashish Mishra. “Minister is busy and his son is with him,” said Amit Mishra, Ajay Mishra’s personal assistant.

Also Read :
Lakhimpur Kheri violence: Eyewitnesses recall what they saw on October 3
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