Police in the southern Indian state of Telangana have arrested 26 people in connection with a mob attack on a female forest ranger.
The incident took place in the town of Kagaznagar where the forest department was planting saplings as part of a tree plantation drive on Sunday. A group of people protested the project, which is on land claimed by villagers. The group was led by a member of the state’s ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) party, who was also arrested, said police.
A video of the attack, showing several protesters repeatedly striking the forest ranger with sticks as she stands on a tractor, has been shared extensively on social media.
“There were already 30 to 50 villagers against the plantation drive. The villagers claim the land is theirs to cultivate but the forest department says it is public forest land and it is the villagers who have encroached upon the land,” senior local police official P. Malla Reddy told CNN.
Reddy added that after the demonstration had begun, Koneru Krishna, vice-chairman of the local district council, arrived with more villagers, bringing the total number of protestors to around 100. Krishna is also the brother of Koneru Konappa, a sitting MLA, or state-level lawmaker, for the TRS.
CNN has contacted TRS for comment, but did not immediately receive a response.
But the party has condemned the attack with the party’s Working President, Kalvakuntla Taraka Rama Rao, tweeting: “I strongly condemn the atrocious behavior of Koneru Krishna who attacked a forest officer who was doing her job. He has been arrested & a case booked already; no one is above law of the land.”
The ranger, named by police as C. Anitha, was taken to hospital for injuries to her right wrist, lacerations and an injury to the head. She has been referred for further treatment in the state capital of Hyderabad.
Police officials confirmed that Krishna is currently in police custody and a case for assault on a public servant while on duty and attempted murder has been filed against him. He has not yet made a court appearance or entered a plea.
According to Reddy, a total of 37 people have been identified as being involved in the violence. An investigation to identify and bring cases against others remains underway.