Ten agricultural labourer unions of Punjab — under the umbrella of Sanjha Punjab Morcha — swarmed in like a huge army in front of Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann’s residence in Sangrur’s Dreamland Colony on Monday. They heroically defied the imposition of Section 144 orders and notices issued to them. to launch on a 72-hour dharna fron 12-14th September. The protestors marched for 250 metres on the Sangrur-Patiala Highway .before they were diverted by the police. A huge police barricade was installed to obstruct the rally and even a fire brigade, as a precaution.
It speaks volumes of the great reservoirs of courage of the dalit agricultural labour and relentless spirit to win their due rights, striking capacity as well as the painstaking preparations by activists of the participating groups. The intensity of coal burning was written on the faces of the dalit community. Over 5000 agricultural labourers converged. The joint front of Agricultural labour organisations has consistently waved the banner of resistance since 2016,braving all odds.
Organisations participating included the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union, the Pendu Mazdoor Union ,the Krantikari Pendu Mazdoor Union, the Zameen Prapt Sangharsh Commitee,The Dehati Mazdoor Sabha and Mazdoor Mukti Morcha.
BKU Ugrahan, Punjab’s largest farmer union, offered its support to this dharna .
Scenes of protests outside Dreamland society are a routine feature ever since Mann was sworn-in as the Chief Minister of the state, with a heavy police barricade always present .
Mukesh Malaud, president of Zamin Prapti Sangrash Committee, one of the ten groups that launched Monday’s protest, said, “The district administration has imposed Section 144 in the city after our protest call. They even sent us notices stating that we had not taken prior permission for our protests and if any law and order problem is created, action will be taken against us, as per law. On Monday, thousands of farm labourers from across the state defied the administration’s notice and come out to join our protests in Sangrur. Many people came in buses and tempos. Some others chose to march on foot to reach Sangrur. None of us were stopped. Our dharna is being staged on the Sangrur-Patiala main highway opposite Dreamland Colony’s gate. We have left a passage for colony residents to enter and exit the colony, and our dharna will continue till September 14.” Apart from Mann, who occasionally visits his Dreamland Colony residence, around 100 other people live there.”
Tarsem Peter, president of Pendu Khet Mazdoor Union, said, “We came from Doaba along with our supporters in our vehicles. It seems like the AAP is acting as the B team of the BJP as they are trying to muffle our voice by stopping us from organising peaceful protests for putting forth genuine demands. But we defied their diktats.”
Zora Singh Nasrali, president of Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union said, “Last year, the cotton crop in south west Punjab was damaged due to attack of pink bollworm and white fly. The then Congress government had announced 10% total compensation to farm labourers. Till date no money has received.”
The other demands of the protesters include increase in NREGA daily wages to Rs 700 rupees, and one third of panchayat land meant for agriculture being given to actual Dalit families instead of dummy candidates fielded by landlords, among others.
On the 2nd day the dharna was addressed by BKU(Ugrahan) President Joginder Singh Ugrahan,Zameen Prapt Sangharsh Commitee secretary Mukesh Mulaudh, Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union president Zora Singh Nasrali, Dehati Mazdoor Sabha president Darshan Nahar, and Punjab Khet Mazdor Sabha Gulzar Goriya.They summarised how section 144 was deployed as an instrument to quell the resistance of the agricultural labour community for their demands.Inspite of repeated talks with the chief minister ,virtually none of the issues have been heeded to.
Tarsem Peter of Pendu Mazdoor Union, Lakhveer Longowal of Krantikari Pendu Mazdoor Union and Bhagwant Samaon touched upon how even after being officially awarded the dalit community is denied fair rate for being granted land ,with debts not revoked. Zameen Prapt Sangharsh Commitee convenor Mukesh Mulaudh and Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union president Zora Singh Nasrali depicted how the administration retracted on it’s notification in 2018 and made a pretence of transaction of dalit rights by undertaking dummy auctioning, forcing agricultural labour to procure land at exorbitant rates.
One of the highlights of the 2nd day was the wrath expressed by women who were wives of suicide victims, for receiving no compensation. Inspite of submitting all documents and completing proceedings, families of many suicide victims caused by debts have not received financial aid of ex-gratia relief of RS.3 Lakh.It illustrates complete apathy of the government. A perfect example is the case of Basant Kaur who after the death of her husband in 2016 failing to pay debt of 2.5 lakh,received no financial help., with he loan incurred intensifying. The government apparatus has virtually render ineffective, who formed committees at district level. “My husband ended his life in 2016 after he failed to repay the debt of Rs 2.50 lakh. He had taken a loan to build a one-room house. I have visited all senior officials concerned and submitted the required documents, but haven’t received any financial help from the government to date. Even the loan amount is increasing,” said Basant Kaur, a woman protesting near the CM’s residence here. An elderly woman, Satwant Kuar had alleged that officials concerned deliberately rejected her case for a financial aid of RS 3 Lakh.Baljeet Kaur narrated that the officials never check the official documents, before rejecting cases.
Today a contingent of leaders of the protest plane to meet Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann to proclaim the demands.
The demands are
- Distribution of the 1/3rd panchayat land promised in the 3rd stage.
- Employment provided as promised in the MANREGA Scheme.
- Grant provisions for dalits to construct houses.
- Distribute the allotted plots to dalits
- Scrap all debts from the agricultural labour.
- Award Compensation of Rs 5000 to all old people and widows.
- Award jobs in government posts without discrimination
- Awarding plots of land to all dalits without land
- Pay Rs 700 to the agricultural labour for daily work.
10.10% compensation to farm labourers facing attacks of pink bollworm and white fly.
Positive to witness the optimism of the leaders and activists and the broad based unity of different groups. Imposition of section 144 conveys how tremors have been created in the camp of the administration by the dalit labour resistance. It is significant the countless occasions that the government has not kept its word and patronised the dummy auctioning of land and revoking allocation of plots, giving upper caste lobby hegemony. Only by intensifying struggle for land at the floor or block level can any results be achieved. Greater support is needed from the landed peasantry belonging to Jat caste, in such rallies.
Harsh Thakor is freelance journalist who has covered mass movements around India particularly Punjab, and attended many programmes of dalit agricultural labour organisations of Punjab.