Rail Blockade by Agricultural Labourers in Punjab


  • March 12, 2024
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A report by Harsh Thakor

March 12, 2024

 

At a time when the land-owning farmers in Punjab are intensifying their struggle to get a legal guarantee of Minimum Support Price for all their crops, along with other demands, the agricultural workers of the state under the banner of the Zameen Prapt Sangharsh Committee (ZPSC) and the Pendu Mazdoor Union held a Rail Roko at Kapurthala and Amritsar in Punjab on March 11, for a duration of 5 hours, to press for their own demands. The agricultural laborers confronted the intimidation of the Punjab police, who intervened to disrupt the protest.

 

The main objective of the ZPSC is to prevent rich farmers from the upper castes from usurping the panchayati common land meant for the Dalits through dummy auctions. The rally was addressed by Tarsem Peter, Kashmir Singh Ghugshore, Gurpreet Singh Chida, and Nirmal Singh Sherpur. 

 

Police detained activists of the organisations to break the 5 hour rail blockade which mainly focused on implementing the legal right of one-third of the common village lands for Dalits. The police attempted to disperse the rally, by beating the protestors, causing injuries to some. Many were taken to hospital. 

 

In a concerted operation in the morning of the agitation the Punjab police pounded on the offices of these organizations in Jalandhar and Sangrur and picked up the leaders. Among the arrested were the office staff,  KKU youth-wing convener Bhupinder Singh Longowal, leader of PSU (Punjab Students Union) Sukhdeep and the provincial press secretary of ‘Istri Jagriti Manch’ Jasbir Jassi.  In protest the labourers sat on the tracks in Amritsar, condemning the police assault. Finally, at around 4.00 pm, the detained leaders were released, and the administration agreed to hold a meeting on March 14 with the Pendu Mazdoor Union, on agri-workers’ demands.

 

A protest in Jalandhar was conducted in solidarity by the Kirti Kisan Union and the Women’s Consciousness front, from 12.00 to 4.00 in the afternoon. Jasvir Kaur Jassi spoke on behalf of the women’s front while Pukia Raj represented Kirti Kisan Union.

 

Women, landless farmers and daily wage labourers mainly belonging to the Dalit community are waging a struggle for land ownership rights, proper wages, suitable housing, etc. A month-long Yatra yatra was held in districts like Jalandhar ,Hoshiarpur and Moga in support of the Rail Roko.

 

The Punjab land ceiling act prohibits a family from owning more than 17.5 acres of land. The ‘Mera Ghar, Mera Naam’ scheme of the Punjab govt. promise all SC families, inhabiting settlements within ‘Lal Dora’ limits of villages, ownership of their houses. However, registration is not enforced.

 

Other demands included a minimum hike of Rs 1000 in their daily wages, the right to a paid weekly holiday on Sundays, waiver on all loans of landless agri-workers, and the right to get 1/3rd of Panchayat common land on lease.

 

ZPSC and PMU have been consistently waging a struggle in support of the demands of the landless peasants and rural laborers in the state, but the ruling AAP has so far paid a deaf ear.

 

Harsh Thakor is a freelance journalist. 

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