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25,000 Punjab women-led protest rally in Mohali solidarises with Manipur rape victims

By Harsh Thakor* 

Revolutionary democratic spirit has flowed at full fervour engulfing many regions of Punjab in condemning the Manipur violence. There have been massive demonstrations in Sangrur, Patiala, Malerkotla, Mohali, Barnala, Ludhiana, Mansa, Bathinda, Moga, Faridkot, Jalandhar and Fatehgarh Sahib over the last few weeks.
Social, cultural, student, employee and other organisations have staged more than 100 protest demonstrations, sweeping the streets in large numbers, condemning Manipur events. They held Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh as the culprits.
Protesting activists asserted that the BJP government has built a wedge between two communities in Manipur so that it can return to power after the 2024 Lok Sabha election. They added, the BJP wants to displace the Kuki tribal community from its lands in Manipur so that their traditional forests and lands could be sold to corporate houses.
The Punjab Lok Morcha has been propagating the grievances of Manipur’s people. Jagmel Singh and Sheerin have been distributing pamphlets house to house and staging street meetings summarising the similarity between the dangers of the four agricultural laws and the inherent dangers unleashed among the people of Manipur. They also highlighted how the laws would rob water, forest and lands of the tribal people and would clear the path for big capitalists to plunder ordinary people.
On 6 August, the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan) staged a gigantic 25,000 strong rally, led and organised by women in the Mohali district in solidarity with the rape victims in Manipur. Anger at intensity of furnace burning churned within all sections of Punjabi society over events in Manipur, literally setting the venue ablaze.
A statewide campaign was earlier conducted by the organisation to educate and mobilise women against gender violence prior to the event. Numerous meetings and rallies were held at different locations.
The protesters, mainly women, from 20 districts of Punjab assembled at the Amb Sahib gurdwara and staged a march towards the Punjab Governor’s house in Chandigarh. They were stopped near the Burail jail where they submitted a memorandum to the ADC to the Governor.
The congregation marched towards the Governor's residence raising slogans that expressed the wrath against such incidents. The memorandum to the Governor include demands to sentence the culprits of Manipur rape, stop using diversionary tactics, end inciting communal violence for electoral gains and repeal the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), among others.
“Strict punishment should be awarded to the culprits who organised mobs to devastate the markets, assaulted women, indulged in arson, looting and desecration of religious places. The Forest Conservation (Amendment) Act, 2023, should be withdrawn,” the protesters demanded.
Joginder Singh Ugrahan, who leads Punjab’s, the BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan), said, the Modi government first broke the base of agriculture by introducing three agricultural laws. In a similar manner, during the Manipur violence, the central government amended the Forest Rights Act to pave way for palm oil plantations, to engulf the northeastern states.
“Punjab’s farmers consider it their imperative task to take on the crisis in Manipur, where the Bharatiya Janata Party’s double-engine government has unleashed merciless violence by favouring one community or abstaining. Women have been the main targets in this violence,” Ugrahan said. He also affirmed that that violence in Manipur is part of the strategy to break the backbone of solidarity against such policies.
Kuldeep Kaur Kussa, the woman leader of the BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan), affirmed they will hand over a memorandum to the Governor, with preparations undertaken through door-to-door and village-level meetings across Punjab. Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, the general secretary of the Bharti Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan), condemned the Manipur government and the Centre for the violence. He also demanded the dismissal of the Manipur government and initiatives to restore peace in the state.

Views of other sections

Aman Deol, a leader of the Stree Jagruti Manch Punjab, reportedly stated, “The Centre and the state government of Manipur are directly responsible for these incidents. So, we are not just speaking for the women of Manipur but representing the aspiration of people of Punjab and the entire country. Earlier, BJP leaders exposed their mettle in Unnao, Hathras, and Kathua incidents. There is no place for minorities, Dalits, tribals and women in the sphere of Hindutva ideology. People must maintain harmony and combat politics of divisiveness, especially until the 2024 election.”
Protesters highlight how laws would rob water, forest and lands of tribal people and would clear the path for big capitalists for plunder
Ramesh, a shopkeeper who participated in such a demonstration in Faridkot, said, “I was filled with shame after seeing the images from Manipur. On the one hand, the BJP government at the Centre talks about ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao -- Save Daughters, Educate Daughters’. On the other hand, women in a state it rules undergo such suffering. It took 79 days for the Prime Minister to speak out. The Chief Minister is still making irresponsible statements. This is very sad. People have expressed their anger in many villages of our area to show that they stand with our suffering sisters in Manipur.”
Aman, a student leader of Punjab University, Chandigarh, stated people from various sections participated in a protest held late in July in Chandigarh, including students in large numbers. There is high volume of bitterness among students about Manipur, said student leader Sandeep of the Punjabi University. Powerful demonstrations were held in Patiala, Punjab’s Guru Nanak Dev University Amritsar and by students in many other colleges in Punjab. They have been vociferously raising their voices against the violence in Manipur and supporting the Kuki women who were paraded nakedly.
When interviewed on the standpoint of minority communities on the issue, Paramjit Singh Mand, leader of Dal Khalsa wished that issue was analysed from the perspective of humanity. “First, the ideology of the BJP and the Sangh is to pit brothers against each other. And we know their thinking about women from the rapes during the Gujarat massacre. The opposition is rightly protesting against the Manipur issue, but it is not doing enough. All minorities, tribals, and Dalits should unite against the BJP’s ideology. Even Hindus are in trouble under Modi’s rule. This government creates conflicts when elections approach, including in Punjab recently, but people must not allow this.”
Writers, artists and intellectuals of Punjab left no stone in condemning the violence imposed on the people of Manipur. Two prominent literary outfits, the Kendriya Punjabi Lekhak Sabha and the Pragatisheel Lekhak Sangh, Punjab, also protested. Dr Sukhdev Singh Sirsa, general secretary of the Kendriya Punjabi Lekhak Sabha, said, “This is the biggest failure of the BJP government and a matter of shame for it that Kuki women were humiliated by a mob of one community. Everyone, especially writers, must oppose the atrocity of divinding people and converting women into pawns to manoeuvre political games.”
Prof Jagmohan, general secretary of the Jamhoori Adhikar Sabha Punjab, who is also the nephew of Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, said, “Punjab is a land of people’s struggles with a powerful people’s movement and a legacy of revolutionaries like Gurus, Gadri Babas, and Bhagat Singh. For this reason, those who break the fraternal partnership have not yet been able to set foot here.”
---
*Freelance journalist who covers mass movements around India

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