Punjab's peasant movement decide not to pay anymore
Farooq Tariq (General Secretary, Labour Party Pakistan)
Tufail Cheema was second in line who was killed by the state forces in year 2002 at Probanbad military farms in Depalpur area of Punjab. He was a local leader of Anjaman Mozareen Punjab (Tenants Association of Punjab, the peasant organisation fighting against the military farms administration for land rights).
At the time, We went from Lahore to speak to a memorial meeting only a day after the killing. He was killed because he had refused to pay the share of crop or the contract amount to the military farms administration. This was a call by the AMP leadership not to pay and raise the slogan of death or ownership (Malki Yaa Mout). There were several hundreds attending the meeting. But the mood was a bit off.
During the following four years, many tenants started to pay the share and contract amount to the military administration apart from a handful of AMP leaders. These leaders were frequently harassed, arrested and were subject to death threats.
In May 2006, the military farm administration got two leaders of AMP beaten up again by the police who had refused to hand over the crops to the administration. This sparked a new wave of rebellion.
Labour Party Pakistan was contacted by them for a demonstration in Lahore. That was organised in middle of May 2006 but not much press coverage. Although the main leadership of AMP including the two elected mayors of union councils in Okara and Renalakhurd, Mehr Abdul Sattar and Nadeem Asharaf participated in Lahore demonstration.
We contacted Asma Jehangir, chairperson Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and invited her to a public meeting to be held in Proban Abad on 5th June 2006. She agreed but later apologised as she has to appear in a supreme court case on the same day . We decided to go-ahead in any case for the demo and no cancellation. The poster were printed and fly-posted in all the different villages around the area.
This brought a massive reaction from the local police. Here are some details of police harassment to stop the public meeting.
1- all the tents shops in Depalpur, Pakpattan and Okara were asked not to supply any tents and chairs for the meeting.
2- asked the local leadership of AMP to cancel the public meeting or face the consquences
3- asked me not attend the meeting as cheif guest and that i will be stopped forcefully to enter the area
4- asked all the hotels not supply food stuff for the participants of the public meeting
5- several police camps established around the area where the meeting was going to take place
6- main raods leading to the area were closed
Despite all these suppressive tactics, the public meeting on 5th June was a massive success. we were able to reach the venue after we changed out rout to the area and took a long route.
The peasants brought their charpaies, over 150 of them for seating and all the villages were asked to provide any piece of curtain for the covering of the public meeting place. It was around 44 digree at the time. So a very colourful scene of the public meeting.
over 2000 peasants were able to make their way despite all the police tactices to stop them. Several tractor trolleys were stopped anyhow and people sent back. Over 300 peasant women present in the public meeting were armed with chappaas (the wooden stick that they use to clean the dirty cloths, some time they had used that to clean the dirty police in Okara district),
46 motor cycles with two or three on each of them, were able to reach the public meeting from Okara after they drove over 46 kilometres in the fields to avoid the arrests. They included Mehr Abdull Satar, the elected union council mayor of Okara military farms.
The public meeting went on for over 5 hours and there was not a single person who left his place and was not ready to listen to speeches from over a dozen speakers. The meeting endorsed the decision of the seven villages in the area, not to pay any share or contract amount anymore to the military farms administration. The peasant rebellion has spread in a more militant form. There are over 13000 acre of land with seven villages in this area that make up the military farms.
Another round of conflict has started, now in the same area where Tufail Cheema was killed by the police and rangers four years before and the movement had died down.
We all gave our support to the peasant movement and told the gathering that we are here to stay and will fight back.
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