A 10000 strong contingent of dalit agricultural workers under the leadership of the common front of rural and farm labour organizations or Sanjha Morcha Sangrur, thronged near the chief minsters residence in Sangrur-Patiala highway. As soon as the contingent of thousands of labourers under the leadership of the united front of rural and farm workers’ organisations, proceeded towards Kothi to the Chief Minister’s house, the police unleashed lathi-charge upon them.
For over a month organisations undertook meticulous preparations for this event. One of the largest dalit worker gatherings in recent times in Punjab.
Many men and women became victims of injury; many workers also lost their turbans due to which the anger in the minds of the workers escalated. Threatened by the anger of the workers, the Chief Minister had agreed to meeting for panel meeting with the labour leaders on December 21 through the administration at Chandigarh, after which the blockade was concluded. It is noteworthy that thousands of men and women converged in this action in the form of caravans from all over Punjab to ring a bell at the Chief Minister’s house for the implementation of the agreed demands of the workers and for the concrete settlement of the demands. Ironically Chief minister Bhagwant Mann was away in Gujarat for election work,abstending.
Earlier, while addressing the thousands of landless workers under the Patiala Bridge, President of Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee Mukesh Malaudh, General Secretary of Krantikari Pendu Mazdoor Union Punjab Lakhvir Longowal, State General Secretary of Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union Lachhman Singh Savewala, Makhan Singh Ramgarh, state leader of Mazdoor Mukti Morcha Punjab, Bhup Chand Channon, state leader of Kull Hind Khet Mazdoor Union, Prakash Nandgarh, leader of Dehati Mazdoor Union, Gulzar Gaurian leader of Punjab Khet Mazdoor Sabha, and Tarsem Peter, state president of Pendu Mazdoor Union, Punjab condemning the police lathicharge on the demanding workers, said that the Bhagwant Singh Mann government is treading the same anti-labour policies as the previous governments. They stated that the Bhagwant Singh Mann government is paying no heed to the accepted labour demands due to caste-based discrimination and is not ready to offer any concrete solution to the burning labour demands.
On this occasion, the leaders of the joint front of rural and farm labour organizations Kashmir Singh Ghugshore, Zora Singh Nasrali, Krishan Chauhan, Paramjit Mudki, Bikkar Singh Hathoa, Pargat Singh Kalajhar, Mithu Singh Ghudda, Paramjit Kaur Longowal, Devi Kumari, Harbhagwan Singh Moonak, Dharamveer Harigarh, Lal Singh Dhanula, Avtar Singh Rasulpur said that after the Chief Minister cancelled the meeting scheduled with Mazdoor Morcha on October 3, they did not give time for the next meeting and the demands agreed in the meeting held by Finance Minister Harpal Singh Cheema were disregarded due to discrimination. This apathy has instilled a lot of anger in the working class against the AAP government and the Chief Minister. They demanded that the employment of the labourers should be guaranteed for the whole year and the daily wage should be stipulated to 700 rupees, One third portion of the panchayat lands should be allotted to the labourers at a cheap price and the ownership rights of the Nazul lands should be given to the Dalits. Scheduled compensation should be given, plots should be given to the homeless and needy, possession of allotted plots should be given, loans should be waived off, compensation should be given to suicide victims, old age, widow, disabled pension should be increased to five thousand rupees, age for old age pension should be increased, coercion on Dalits should be eradicated and cases registered during the struggles should be lifted.
Even if brutally intimidated the dalit workers did shake or embarrass the administration in their backyard. All democrats should admire the resilience and death defying courage of the labourers, who illustrated their striking capacity to withstand oppressors. The fact that the police resorted to cane beating, is a testimony of its inherent repressive nature how the administration was shaken. The anti dalit and anti-worker nature of the regime has openly come out before the people.
The Sanjha Morcha did just what the doctor ordered. Great credit particularly to the painstaking contribution of the Zameen Prapt Sangharsh Commitee in rallying the forces .Unity of forces from different ideological backgrounds too fortified the resistance. Struggles at block level have too knit the scattered seeds into a formidable force. Their movement must be linked with that of the landed peasantry and it must win support of the organisations of the landed farmers.
Indian Federation of Trade Unions issued a statement condemning the lathi charge.
Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist who has covered mass movements around India and frequently toured Punjab