Janhastakshep:a campaign against fascist designs
Press release Date: 14 June, 2016
Subject: Peasants Battle Cry for Land in Punjab: An Investigation into Police and Land-lord Repression on Land Struggle of Dalit Peasants in Villages of Sangrur District of Indian Punjab.
A Janhastakshep team visited some of the villages in Sangrur district of Punjab on the 28 and 29 May, 2016 to investigate reports of police and landlord repression on struggle for agricultural land being waged by dalit peasants in over hundred villages of the district. The team comprised of Ish Mishra, Prof at Hindu College, Delhi University; senior journalists Sh Rajesh Kumar and Sh. Anil Dubey and Dr Vikas Bajpai, Asst. Prof., Jawaharlal Nehru University. The team wishes to acknowledge the generous support of friends from APDR (Association for Protection of Democratic Rights), Punjab in the conduct of this inquiry.
Apart from visiting three villages – Bald Kalan, Bhadoh and Kheri, the team had extensive interaction with peasant men, women and youth; activists of PSU (Punjab Student Union), NBS (Naujawan Bharat Sabha) and APDR; village Panchayat representatives and the district collector.
The Dalit peasants in different villages of Sangrur district and adjoining areas of Barnala, Patiala and Mansa district of Punjab have been agitating under the leadership of ZPSC (Zameen Prapti Sangarsh Committee), mainly for the following two demands over last three years.
1. The effective control of 33 percent of Panchayat land in the villages be given to the Dalits by eliminating dummy Dalit candidates fostered by the landlords during the auction of the land every year in order to maintain their effective control over this land.
2. The auction price of the land be reduced drastically such that the Dalit households can successfully bid for the land.
In Punjab the total land of the Panchayats is 1, 58, 000 acres, out of which the share of Dalits comes to 52,667 acres. Village Bald Kalan located on the Patiala-Sangrur highway in Bhawanigarh tehsil has emerged as the biggest centre for this struggle. This is owing to the fact that the village Panchayat has a huge 375 acres of land under its control and thereby the Dalit land also adds up to a substantial 125 acres.
ZPSC had earlier forced the government to auction the land meant for Dalits at half the rate at which it is auctioned to non-Dalits. However, this price still comes to around Rs 23,000 to Rs 25, 000 an acre which still poses difficulties for the Dalit families. Earlier this year the district administration allowed leasing of thirty acres of Panchayat land in Jhaneri village of Sangrur for a ‘gaushala’ (cowshed) at the rate of Rs 7,000 an acre and that too for a thirty years period. ZPSC is now demanding that land be leased to them also on same terms. The villagers argued – “If the land can be given for animals at Rs 7,000, then why can it not be given to us at the same rate? We are after all living human beings.”
The dominant Jat landlords, a large section of which is affiliated to the Akali Party, and their acolytes in the state structure have been alarmed by this land struggle and have teamed together to put down this movement of the Dalit peasantry.
On May 24 a huge police force was mobilized by the district administration to conduct the auction of the dalit land of Bald Kalan village at the BDPO (Block Development Projects Officer) office at tehsil headquarter Bhawanigarh even as Dalit peasants and ZPSC activists from Bald Kalan and several other villages protested outside the auction site. When the administration refused to yield to their demands the agitators moved to outside Bald Kalan village and staged a dharna on the Patiala – Sangrur highway.
Even as the villagers peacefully staged the dharna, two dalit boys, who were drunk, of the dalit families of the village siding with the landlords ploughed into their dharna on motorcycles at the behest of the landlords. When the villagers beat up the boys the police resorted to a heavy baton charge for more than half an hour on the protesters including old men, women and children. Villagers also alleged that the police opened fire in air and on their tractor to scare them.
Fourteen people were grievously hurt in the baton charge. Two of them suffered multiple fractures and had to be taken to Patiala Medical College Hospital for treatment. Several women who showed us the injury marks over their bodies where the skin had turned blue said that they were beaten up by male policemen.
On May 25 the police filed an FIR – No. 0075/2016, under sections 307 (attempted homicide), 353, 186, 323, 148 and 149 against seventy nine persons including twenty unknown persons. Till now 7 people from Bald Kalan are in jail. A series of FIRs are being slapped and arbitrary arrests are being made by the police in several villages.
The district administration has been refusing to concede this demand. When contacted by us on phone, the district collector Mr Thind admitted that the land has been given for ‘gaushala’ at a huge loss of revenue to the government, but said that the rules did not permit the same for these dalit peasants. He had no answer to explain what rules permitted this for cattle while the marginalized peasants are being denied the same. District collector Arsh Deep Singh Thind said that ZPSC is a group of people who have been provoking the peasants in different villages to commit violent acts. He justified the arrests in the name of maintaining the rule of law.
Undaunted by the police atrocities the villagers state that – “this is a struggle for our self-respect. It is the first time that we are feeling independent of the landlords. We have our own land; there is no need for us to go to their fields now.” ZPSC leader of Bald Kalan, Jarnail Singh said – “The truth is that the landlords cannot digest the fact that we too have the land now. Earlier our girls had to go to their fields (to get the weeds for fodder), and they would say nasty things about them. Our women were not respected. Our brethren are simple laborers; sometimes they would get work, sometimes times not. They used to sit idle; but with access to land, our year goes by in comfort. Now we do not have to bow before them.”
In view of the findings of our visit and the existing socioeconomic realities of life in the villages of Sangrur district visited by us, the Janhastakshep team demands from the present Akali Dal-BJP coalition government in Punjab:
· That all false cases filed against the protesting dalit peasants in different villages of the district be withdrawn by the government forthwith and all arbitrary arrests that are being carried out should be stopped immediately in the interest of justice and public harmony.
· All men and women languishing in jails should be freed immediately unconditionally.
· The district administration should allot the panchayat land meant for dalits at very nominal price without any commercial motive in order to ensure the wellbeing of these marginalized sections of the society.
· The dalit families in Kheri village who had been allotted land for homesteads should be given possession of the same without further ado and law should be implemented in the spirit of justice rather than selectively to ensure the benefits of the dominant sections in the village.
· The policemen guilty of committing brutalities on villagers in Bald Kalan village should be booked under law and compensation be given to those injured in police action.
Readers can have an idea of the direction in which this movement is headed from the reply we got from Baksish Singh, a highly educated youth in the village of Bhadoh, to our question – why did you choose the color of your flag to be red; because it is blue that is considered to be the color of the Dalit movement in the country? His straightforward answer was – red is the color of revolution. We couldn’t have agreed more with Baksish.
Prof Ish Mishra Dr Vikas Bajpai