The Zameen Prapt Sangharsh Commitee has played the most defining role ever in determining the destination of the upsurge or emancipation of the dalit community of Punjab from enslavement. The movement it has inaugurated in 2014 has virtually written a new chapter or defined a new epoch in the history of struggle of Dalit agricultural labour. With detailed or incisive analysis and painstaking preparations it led many a struggle for re-distribution of panchayat land promised to dalits, for cancellation of debts and against grossly unfair prices o obtain land during auctioning. The efforts of the ZPSC have instilled a sense of confidence or self-respect in the Dalit Community as it never has previously in Punjab .Never before have dalit community members spoken so boldly against the opression perpetrated on them. It is notable how it has consolidated after each juncture of struggle. A welcome break was enshrined from the tradition in the Communist Movement that literally dumped the caste question in the dustbin. Without doubt a stepping stone towards creating base for agrarian revolution and a model for the rest of the country.
In the course of history the dalit Community has been denied fundamental rights and marginalized leaving no stone unturned. In 1961, the state passed the Punjab Village Common Lands (Regulation) Act, reserving 33% of agricultural village common land for Scheduled castes, who could get an annual lease through bidding. Rules under the statute were framed in 1964. The implementation, however, was indifferent. The 1961 land regulation act carved out 1/3rd panchayat land rights for al dalit families. Their rights have existed only on paper with ruling parties patronizing all steps of ruling castes to deny the dalits their promised rights.31.9 %of Punjab comprise dalits,more than any state in India. Over 170 families occupy a mere 25 acres of land. Caste confrontation was propelled to its very zenith with upper caste landlords unleashing merciless attacks on dalits with the patronage of the ruling party. On countless occasions dalit women are molested and upper caste landlords forcibly seize land. times children are made to go hungry. The sarpanches with all their might supressed democratic assertion of dalits and sponsored attacks on them by goons of upper castes to thwart their rights. In 2014 43 activists of ZPSC were arrested and within a few years the figure of those imprisoned rose to 170.
ZPSC took it’s birth in Malwa and then spread like wildfire igniting the spark of combat to engulf other regions of Punjab. It’s first spark shimmered after the ruthless attack unleashed by upper caste Jat landlords on dalits in Badli Kalan.
Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Commmitee mainly focussed on the issue of the Dalit Community winning it’s share of 1/3rd share of promised Panchayat land .It advocated a 33year land lease for the dalit Community to replace annual auctioning where dalits were manipulated. The ZPSC made a meticulous survey of the socioeconomic conditions in terms of land relations, wages paid to dalit workers, condition of women and employment.
The ZPSC also seriously raised issue of the 1970 land ceilings act which prevented anyone from owning more than 17 acres of land. In the course of the struggle many important ZPSC leaders were targeted either being arrested or had their houses raided. Another significant issue is the confronting the debts induced by micro finance corporations .With full fury the dalits have risen up against the attempts of micro-finance companies to enslave them. An issue was also raised confronting the building of an industrial park encroaching dalit land.The organization has also in the deepest pitch raised its voice against Hindutva fascism .
I have had the privilege to attend 2 of its most impactful protests in 2016 and it’s maha panchayat in 2018.Memories will be permanently embedded in my mind of the intensity and anguish expressed in the protest at the grain market in Sangrur mobilising around 8000 people and DC Headquarters and later in Jaloor in protest organized by Jaloor Jabar Virodhi Sangharsh Commitee attended by 5000 persons..In all the memorial conferences for martyr Gurdev Kaur annually in December around 2000 persons attended. Many impactful gheraos were staged in Patiala outside the place of minister Singla reminiscent of an army thronging and converging in, literally painting the venue of protest red.A few days ago another gherao was launched with around 1500 persons besieging palatial house of minster Vijay Singh Singla.
It was most inspiring to witness the capture of land plots themselves by Dalits through planting of red flags. Applying diligent methodology a network was built in Khaneri,Badli Kalan,Kheri,Garacho etc.and other surrounding areas in Sangrur.A red spark or resistance engulfed many a village in Sangrur-Patiala with Caste and class consciousness reaching a crescendo and vengeance written on the faces of dalits at the intensity of a tornado .It is remarkable that even from the deepest depths of despair it it has spectacularly risen .Mastery of an architect has been blended with the courage of a soldier in galvanising mass mobilizations against the enemy forces. The intensity of struggles enabled the Dalit community to gain deep insight into the nefarious games played to trick them by the ruling castes or classes. I was most impressed with the death defying courage the ZPSC revealed to confront state repression after over 60 of its cadre were arrested.
Co-operative farming is now practiced by the Dalit community which is remarkable. Crops are grown and cattle grazed collectively, with all share produced. An 11 member strong village commitee was elected to run the cooperatives.In Jhaneri 60 familes were knitted into a single unit.6000 Bighas of land have been distributed by the ZPSC and the land auctioning rate reduced from Rs 440000 to 22000. The interviews of dalit women activists testify the spectacular gains achieved in the last 6 years. They highlight the success of cooperative farming which enables them to earn Rupees 30000 a year. No longer will dalit labourer be forced into begging wheat from upper castes as a result, becoming self-sufficient or reliant.
What is heartening is that a second stage has been reached with a decree awarded by the administration for being awarded 33 year lease of land.In Tolewal region the declaration of lease was first made.
It is also significant that the organization now has a general body with regular office bearers.
The biggest hurdle confronting the struggle is the ambivolence of the landed jat peasantry who are basically reluctant to treat the dalit community on equal terms. The ZPSC has opposed a mechanical tendency to only concentrate on class and neglect caste struggle.
Other groups spearheading the dalit agricultural labour movement are the Krantikari Pendu Mazdoor Union and the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union.The KPMU totally supports the line of ZPSC in terms of incorporating caste struggles. In village Namol it undertook a major land re-distribution campaign as well as Dhuri.At a smaller scale than ZPSC its struggles spared like wildfire. One of its most important achievements was preventing auctioning of land at most unfair prices. The Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union has been very active in initiating protests for plots, employment 10 marlas of land etc.but deferred confronting Jat peasantry at ground level. It has mobilized gathering seven for demands of housing and electricity. In it’s view even if caste factor has so seriously be taken into consideration it cannot replace class struggle or politics. The PMKU firmly feels that until a genuine movement is built up by the landed peasantry and unity forged with landless labour such land capture movements will be of no qualitative avail. I had the privilege of being present in a panchayat of KPMU in 2017 and 2018 and a rally of PMKU in Bathinda in 2018.A series of assaults were also carried out on activists of the KPMU.In recent months KPMU has confronted cheating dalits in land auction sin over 100 villages. It has also undertaken very commendable work in confronting goondaism.It is remarkable that even from the deepest depths of despair it it has spectacularly risen.
What is very positive is the unity of so many revolutionary forces in offering solidarity against repression on the movement of ZPSC with outstanding commemoration programmes carried out on day of murder of Gurdev Kaur.
One weakness of the movement is the ZPSC calling for NOTA in elections and not properly projecting the revolutionary alternative. The KPMU staunchly adheres to path and slogan of ‘Boycott’ of parliamentary elections. Both do not comply to the slogan of Active political campaign propagated by the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union and BKU(Ugrahan).
Another significant defect prevailing is the absence of a revolutionary movement of the landed peasantry to give a cutting edge to the upsurge of agricultural labour. Thus in term of united front a glaring gap is faced to launch a sustained agrarian movement..Tendencies exist of caste identity politics favouring Ambedkarism.The ZPSC must beware of not falling into the trap of legalism which would nullify the movement.
A more accurate analysis also must be made of the impact of capitalist development and imperialism on semi-feudal economy .
The movement has greater goals to achieve, said Gurmukh Singh of Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee. “The possession of common land has instilled confidence among Dalits but it can’t be their main source of livelihood,” he said. “The real change will come with proper implementation of land ceiling law and redistribution of private land. Only then the landless will gain equal status.”
Nevertheless it is noteworthy that the ZPSC has created shivers in the spine of the ruling classes and upper caste landlords and forced them to counter retaliate. Thus the enemy has been hit at its hardest point. It should be the precursor of a genuine revolutionary organization of peasantry uniting the landed and landless peasantry.
Inspite of the turbulence caused by the clampdown Covid 19 Pandemic the spark of dalit struggle still ignites vociferously.in Punjab. In the last month a major resurgence has risen of the struggles of the Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee of Sangrur-Patiala, which has encompassed different areas. Positive that the lockdown did not dissipate the spirit of the dalit landless labourers. In a most methodical manner they revived their democratic movement. A spate of protests erupted on the burning issues facing the dalit community. Regions like Gharachon and Singla shimmered the spirit of resistance at its crescendo. Issues revolved around issue of distribution of panchayat land reserved, scrapping of loan re-payments and opposition to attacks of mafia elements on dalit activists.
On June 8th one thousand dalit villagers swarmed in Sangrur like an army and besieged the hose of minister Vijay Singh Singla, demanding reserved panchayat land promised to them.
In Gharachon village of Sangrur as majority of Dalit families sat in a prolonged dharna to protest the auction of the reserved land. The protesting Dalit community members alleged that the Panchayat authorities allotted the land to “dummy bidders” planted by the members of the upper caste. This protracted struggle was of great significance to the dalit agrarian movement.
“There are two groups of Dalits in Gharachon. On one side there are 174 families, while on other side there are only five families. But Panchayat officials on May 27 allotted the reserved land of 48 acres to the representatives of these five families, who are working as dummy candidates for upper castes. Since then we have been demanding cancellation of the auction,” said Mukesh Malaud, zonal president of the Zameen Prapati Sangharash Committee (ZPSC).
The merits of its achievements are testified in the articles written in blogs like Caravan or Wire. They illustrate the sheer relentlessness spirit of the ZPSC in bringing the opressive ruling classes an castes to the ground.
Quoting Mukesh Maloud, the president of the zonal committee of the ZPSC, “Our movement has so far been successful in 55 villages now, in Sangrur and Patiala district, where the Dalits get their share in land through genuine auctions,” Mukesh said. He said that there were 55 such villages, “each is a success story of the class struggle—Bharo, Bhattiwala, Gharancho, Tolewal, Mudowal, Dhandiwal, Rangia, Badrukha, Kalara, Ghawda, Harigarh, Khori Kalan, Kheri Baba Dalersingh Wala, Wadera, Baura and Deh Kalan.”
Paramjit Kaur Longowal, the secretary of the ZPSC, stated that in Badrukha village around forty Dalit families began cultivating eight acres last year, after they won the rights to the land in an auction. Longowal said that their “democratic struggle” lasted five years but now the families were self-reliant. “We can say that the landless Dalit families in eight to ten villages are totally self-reliant to an extent that they were capable of sharing their stores with a few poor migratory families from other states during the lockdown,” she said. These villages included Jhaneri, Balad Kalan, Balad Khurd, Gharancho, Badrukha and Mander Khurd.
Paramjeet Kaur, a middle-aged widow with two children. stated, “It is the fruit of a five-year-long struggle in which our women bore the lathi blows of policemen several times during the agitations.” She added, “Today, we grow vegetables and fodder for the cattle, besides the wheat as our main crop.”
Paramjeet’s husband Avtar said that before the movement of 2014, “several families here in this village were starving, dependent on, and at the mercy of the landlords who exploited the situation.” He added, “Our women also faced sexual harassment during their pursuance to cut fodder from their fields or even from the roadsides.” But now, he said, he felt pride in being a part of his historically landless peasantry class that is self-reliant in terms of foodgrains for survival. “Foodgrains are essential to survive, and we have enough now,” he said.