Land Struggles

Punjab: Militant Struggle of Dalits for their share of Panchayat land

(New Democracy News)
Since the past few months, in the district of Sangrur ( Punjab) there has been a struggle going on for theed land. Struggle started for nazul land in village Sekha.42 bighas of land earmarked for dalits was forcefully occupied by landlords since past 30 years. People gathered under the flag of PMU and marched in the village against the landlords. They then recaptured the land from the landlords.
On this issue, 17 villages organised a meeting in town Dhanoula and formed Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee (ZPSC). A decision was taken in this meeting to organize a Peoples’ Conference. 1700 people from 67 villages participated in the conference held at Badrukhan. Some decisions were taken here. Firstly, it was decided that struggles will be built to recapture land marked for dalit peasants from the occupation of landlords. Secondly, it was demanded that the Land Ceiling be lowered from the current 17 acres and the new ceiling be enforced. It was decided that ZPSC will struggle for redistribution of the ceiling surplus land thus released to landless and poor farmers. Thirdly, ZPSC will also struggle to ensure that dalit peasants get the land earmarked for them from the total panchayat land. Fourthly, ZPSC demanded that plots be allocated to people who have no shelter and no land for their domestic waste. Finally, ZPSC will also struggle against the ration depot owners for better distribution of rations.
According to the Panchayat Act of Punjab, one third of Panchayat land has to be leased for farming only to dalits and only they can plough that land. However, in most villages, the landlords themselves are farming the land after bidding for it in the name of dalits. This mechanism has become part and parcel of agricultural practice in Punjab over the last decades. Because of this, dalits who should have been allotted this land and who worked on farms, have been rendered unemployed. As industries are not sufficiently developed in Punjab, they do not offer many employment opportunities. Thus dalits, who are thirty percent of Punjab’s population, face increasing unemployment. In addition, though the Govt. of Punjab sought to wean them away from struggles through ration schemes but these schemes are failing due to lack of funds and due to corruption. Hence dalits are facing severe economic difficulties.
Since past some time, a struggle is going on in district Sangrur under the ZPSC for the panchayat land reserved for dalits (nazul land) to be leased out to them. This time, when the bidding for land started, dalits asked for these lands in four villages- Baopur, Balad Kalan, Aalo Arakh and Namol. Because of the people’s struggle in Aalo Arakh village the landlords had to give to dalits 26 bighas of land, but in the other three villages the landlords flatly refused to do so. In Baopur village, the dalits were boycotted, they were stopped from going to toilet and from cutting grass for their livestock. Dalits were beaten when they went to toilet on the farms. The Sangharsh Committee fought against this and protested twice in front of the DC office. At last the Administration had to ensure that the dalits were given their share of the land which was 26 acres. However, landlords who boycotted the dalits have still not been punished; rather a case under section 307 IPC against Sangharsh Committee leaders.
In the village Matoi, whenever dalit girls went to the fields to gather fodder for cattle, the son of the Sarpanch used to stalk them and mentally and sexually harass them. These girls study in various colleges. They used to gather in the temple and here they were organized to stand against the Sarpanch and his son. They decided to bid for the dalit share in panchayti land. During the bidding ,when they were stopped from bidding they rejected the first bidding. During the second bidding, when the dalit girls went against the higher caste bidders like the Sarpanch and other land lords, the landlords sent out their men (hooligans) to attack the ZPSC leaders, girls and the other villagers. Due to this ZPSC took action to regularize a dharna in front of DSP office. Under the pressure of this dharna, police registered a FIR but did not include any offence under SC/ST Act.
In Balad Kalan village, there is a total of 370 acres of Panchayat land, so 123 acres should be given to the dalits. Under the leadership of Sangharsh Committee, dalits stopped the bidding for this land six times. In the course of this, they held road blocks, they surrounded BDO’s office and they protested in front of the SDM office. However, the entire Administration supported the landlords and higher caste bidders while the ZPSC mobilized the small peasants of the higher castes to come forward and support the dalits. The entire police force of district Sangrur was sent to the BDO office at Bhawanigarh, the place of the seventh bidding. When the people marched forward to the spot to stop the landlords and higher castes from bidding, they were severely lathi charged. This happened three times with the people gathering again each time, in the course of which four people including women were severely beaten. Forty people were arrested under section 307 IPC. In protest against this, effigies were burnt in different parts of Punjab by ZPSC, PMU and KKU. On 10th July a protest took place at the DC office. Again on 21st July, 6000 people took part in a protest in which DC office was gheraoed. The protesters were addressed by leaders of the struggle including President of Pendu Mazdoor Union, Com. Tarsem Peter, KKU leader Datar Singh, NBS leader Raminder Singh, PSU leader Rajinder Singh and ZPSC leader Gurmukh Singh. This struggle is still continuing.