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Punjab farm workers' major victory amidst 'merciless' corporate land grab, poor wages

By Harsh Thakor* 

After a sustained 11 day protest dharna outside the office of the Sub-divisional magistrate, in Jaitu village of Faridkot, from 24th May, the Grameen Mazdoor Union emerged victorious in winning demands. Enduring the gruelling heat the Dalit agricultural workers displayed unflinching resilience. The grassroots or spade work of the union deserves to be complemented.
The deputy commissioner assured that 5 Marlas of plots would be distributed to each family, provided secure houses to compensate for damage caused due to rains and rights to own houses. A final meeting has been finalised outside Faridkot civil court on June 6th between the Grameen Mazdoor Union leaders and the authorities.
On each day the Grameen Mazdoor Union weathered attempts by the police or politicians to sabotage their resistance, and raised slogans of their demands, at the highest pitch of their voice. Creditable it never buckled to any intimidation.
A very significant happening was the solidarity of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, representing the landed peasantry, offering solidarity by integrating with the protest on June 3rd. Its leaders expressed the need for the landed peasantry to establish common ground with the agricultural labourers.
Leaders of Bhartiya Kisan Union, Kirti Kisan Union, Punjab Kisan Union, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda) and Krantikari Kisan Union addressed the gathering. At that point of time, the deputy commissioner was unwilling to agree to the demands. Prominent speakers were Sardul Singh Bhatti, Nachatar Singh, Gurjeet Singh Jaitu, Nayab Singh and Rajinder Singh Deepsinghwala.
A chakka was called in Bhatinda for June 3rd, if the authorities were reluctant to comply with the demands. Leaders Kashmir Singh Gugshore and Agrez Singh, on the final day, summarised how even after a duration of nine days the administration remained adamant to conceding demands, but finally the pressure of the dharna took its toll on the administration, compelling it to yield to the protestors. They termed the protest conclusion as a moral victory and the activists looked jubilant.
Earlier, from 15th May to 22nd May the Zameen Prapt Sangharsh Commitee conducted a sustained protest outside the District Collector’s office in Sangrur, highlighting demand of distribution of Nazul Zameen, and the 2 year protest in village of Shadihari, in which the demands have still not been met. Showing no mercy, the police attacked protesters in Shadihari, making many villagers go the hospital.
On 22nd March the Pendu Mazdoor Union staged a vociferous rally in Jalandhar from Desh Bhgat Memorial hall to the district collector’s office, raising demands for implementation of the land ceiling act of 1972, which disallowed more than 17 acres of land to be in possession of a farmer. They asserted that today the act is only nominal, with hundreds of acres of land in the hands of absentee landlords or politicians.
Leaders narrated the merciless land grabbing of the corporates and the denial of minimum wages promised to labourers. Demands were also raised for distribution of Panchayat land. Main speakers here were Tarsem Peter, Kashmir Singh Gugshore and Avatar Singh Rasalpur. Around 300 persons participated.
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*Freelance journalist who has covered mass movements. Inputs: activists of Zameen Prapt Sangharsh Committee, Punjab

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