History of all sorts was created in Punjab on December 12th when the dalit agricultural labourer’s organisations for the first time conducted a rail blockade independently, without support of organisations of the landed peasantry. In total around 20000 labourers participated in 12 districts. Without doubt an event that embarrassed the ruling parties in their very belly. . Displaying death defying courage the agricultural labourers defied the administration for a sustained period. Perfect illustration of the rage fuming within the agricultural labourer community of the injustice of the social system and their determination to transform it. The agitation was lodged with in a most surgical manner, with the trains brought to a literal halt and virtually paralysed. I received very positive reports from Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union secretary Lacchman Singh Sewewala and Surkh Leeh editor Pavel Kussa.It speaks volumes of the potential of the dalit agricultural labour to challenge the oppressive social order.
Train passengers had a tough time with rail traffic being disrupted for four hours (noon to 4 pm) demanding repeal of amendments to labour laws, Rs 700 a day & 200 days work under MGNREGA, waiver of pending electricity bills and restoration of connections, and free plots to farm workers.
The main demands comprised Immediate repeal of amendments to labour laws, Rs700 a day & 200 days work under MGNREGA,Pending power bill waiver & restoration of connections and Free residential plots to farm labourers
Workers from Mazdoor Mukti Morcha, Pendu Mazdoor Union, Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union, Rural Mazdoor Union, Punjab Khet Mazdoor Sabha, Krantikari Pendu Mazdoor Union and Punjab Krantikari Pendu Mazdoor Union participated in dharnas across Punjab.
Protesters alleged the demands made in the meeting of the Joint Workers’ Front with Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi on November 23 were not implemented despite repeated assurances. They warned the Punjab Government that if the demands of the workers were not met they would intensify their struggle.
Mazdoor Mukti Morcha, Punjab, president Bhagwant Singh Samao and Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union state secretary Lachman Singh Sewawala said if the government did not meet the demands, Congress leaders would be openly challenged in all villages.
A total of 26 trains — 19 under Ferozepur division and seven under Ambala division — were affected by a four-hour rail roko protest by Punjab farm labourers’ Sanjha Morcha on Sunday.
The rail roko was organised at nine locations in the state. These locations are in Amritsar, Mansa, Jethuke and Pathrala in Bathinda, Goleewala in Faridkot, Tapa area in Barnala, Ajitwal in Moga district, Chowkimaan in Jagraon constituency of Ludhiana district, and Phillaur in Jalandhar. The rail network in Malwa region was totally paralysed while the protest on Amritsar urban rail tracks and Phillaur hampered services on Delhi route. Trains on Ludhiana-Ferozepur rail line too remained affected, so were trains to go from Bathinda to Ganganagar.
Most of the trains were regulated after 4 pm, according to the office of divisional railway manager ( DRM), Ambala. According to the office of DRM, Ferozepur division, a total of 14 trains got delayed while five were rescheduled.
The rail roko was from noon to 4 pm over pending demands of khet mazdoors, said Zora Singh Nasrali, president of Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union (PKMU). The rail roko was supported by BKU Ugrahan. “Many of the labourers/ farmers returned last night itself and now they are on tracks. I too came last evening only,” said Shingara Singh Maan, senior vice- president, BKU Ugrahan.
“Sanjha Morcha had a meeting with CM Charanjit Singh Channi on November 23. He did not give much assurance on our demands. Still, we waited for a few days and now did a rail roko,” said Lachman Singh Sewewala, general secretary, PKMU. Sewewala too came from Tikri border on Saturday.
Their demands include loan waiver from microfinance companies, five-marla plots to needy mazdoor families in villages, waiver of outstanding power bills, restoration of snapped power connections over non-payment of bills, a check on dummy auctions on panchayati land of villages meant for agriculture purposes. An important demand was offering loans of RS 50000 under a 25%labour quota in the primary agricultural labour society which award subsidised pulses, wheat, sugar, tea leaves apart from wheat, to the holders of the blue card.
“One third of land is reserved for Dalits, but dummy candidates are fielded by landlords thus depriving Dalit families of their rights to cultivate this land,” said Tarsem Peter, a mazdoor union leader.
An important demand was also for punishment to a deputy superintendent of police from the Chief Minsiter’s security who lathi charged unemployed youths in Mansa a few days ago.
Lacchman Singh Sewewala spoke about how land still remained in possession of big landlords with the government withdrawing the letter for assessing which framers owned more than the limit granted. He mentioned how the homeless and needy were denied residential plots and that the Channi govt.failed to bring the guilty to the book, who committed atrocities on dalits.
A very significant aspect was the heeding o f demands on aspects of plot, for implantation of manrega scheme and for disallowing any farmer from possessing over 17 acres of land, as promised in the land ceiling act of 1971.Ironic that the government relented to the demand on implementing the proposals of the land ceilings act.
Such a protest has germinated the seeds to escalate the intensity of the agitation of the agricultural labourers to traverse further boundaries.
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai..Toured India, particularly Punjab. Written on Mass movements ,Massline,Maoism on blogs like Democracy and Class Struggle and frontierweekly