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Seeking agreed demands execution, Dalit farm workers' rally lathicharged in Punjab

By Harsh Thakor* 

A 10,000 strong contingent of Dalit agricultural workers under the leadership of the common front of rural and farm labour organizations, Sanjha Morcha Sangrur, thronged near the chief minster’s residence in Sangrur-Patiala highway. For over a month the organisations forming part of the front had prepared for the event.
One of the largest Dalit worker gatherings in recent times in Punjab, as soon as the contingent of labourers proceeded towards Kothi to knock at the door of chief minister's house, the police unleashed lathicharge upon them. Many men and women were injured; many 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 agreed to meet a panel of labour leaders on December 21 in Chandigarh, after which the blockade was lifted.
Agricultural workers converged 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 and for concrete settlement of the demands. Chief minister Bhagwant Mann was away in Gujarat for election campaign.
Those who addressed the landless workers under the Patiala Bridge included President of the Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee Mukesh Malaudh, General Secretary of tge Krantikari Pendu Mazdoor Union Punjab Lakhvir Longowal, State General Secretary of the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union Lachhman Singh Savewala, state leader of tge Mazdoor Mukti Morcha Punjab Makhan Singh Ramgarh, state leader of the Kull Hind Khet Mazdoor Union Bhup Chand Channon, leader of the Dehati Mazdoor Union Prakash Nandgarh, leader of the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Sabha Gulzar Gaurian, and state president of the Pendu Mazdoor Union Tarsem Pete.
Condemning the police lathicharge they said that the Bhagwant Singh Mann government is treading the same anti-labour policies as the previous governments. They stated that the government is paying no heed to the accepted demands of rural agricultural labourers due to caste-based discrimination and is not ready to offer any concrete solution to their burning emands.
Other leaders of the joint front of rural and farm labour organizations who addressed the rally included 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, and Avtar Singh Rasulpur.
The leaders said that after the chief minister cancelled the meeting scheduled with the Mazdoor Morcha on October 3, they were not given time for the next meeting. There was no agreement at a meeting held by Finance Minister Harpal Singh Cheema. The apathy instilled anger in the rural workers 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 wages should be stipulated to Rs 700; one third portion of the panchayat lands should be allotted to the labourers at a cheap price; the ownership rights of the Nazul lands should be given to the Dalits; plots should be given to the homeless and the needy; loans should be waived; compensation should be given to suicide victims; old age, widow, disabled pension should be increased to Rs 5,000, age; coercion on Dalits should be eradicated; and cases registered during the struggles should be lifted.
The Indian Federation of Trade Unions issued a statement condemning the lathicharge.
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*Freelance journalist who has covered mass movements around India and frequently toured Punjab

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