Caste Oppression, Land Struggles, Peasants, Semi-feudal

Sangrur (Punjab) – Struggle of Dalits for Panchayat land advances facing State Repression

Recently the struggle of Dalits in Sangrur district of Punjab for their share of Panchayat land faced severe govt. repression. This struggle has been continuing for last two years under the banner of Zamin Prapti Sangharsh Committee (ZPSC). On May 24, 2016 Akali-BJP Govt. fired upon and lathi charged Dalits protesting against auction meant to defraud them of their right. In village Ballad Kalan, police action injured a large number of Dalits and police framed false cases against 170 activists, 71 named and others un-named, for having attacked police. It charged them for attempt to murder though no policeman had sustained any injury. This attack occurred on May 24th, on the eve of the anniversary of the famous Naxalbari armed peasant uprising.

Police has arrested several activists. Arrests are continuing. Cases are open-ended, allowing the police to round up whomever they consider the leaders of the movement. Police has seriously clamped down on the area. Movement of the activists is becoming difficult in these rural areas. But the people are determined not to let the Govt. rob them of their share of land and give it to the landlords. Panchayats in the area are controlled by rich landowners, panchayati administration and representatives of the ruling parties. Under the law, one third of Panchayat land is reserved for Dalits, which landlords cannot tolerate. Firstly it is a question of economic resource and secondly they wish to keep Dalits subjugated. The struggle has once again exposed the service rendered by Akali-BJP Govt. to landlords. It has shown these ruling class parties in their true colours. While they pay lip service to rights of Dalits, they are actually the protectors of landlords and propertied classes.

On March 20, 2016 ZPSC held a jan-panchayt at village Ghrachon near Sangrur where 4000 pepole participated and pledged to continue struggle for reduction of rent on panchayt land. In the second week of May, struggle started when in villages Nadam Pur and  Kherhi, where residential plots were allotted to Dalits but not given, Dalits occupied the panchayat land for residential plots. Meantime in village Jhaloor, panchayat land was auctioned secretly violating norms, in the name of a person who is a contract labourer with a landlord. In protest against this, Dalits blocked traffic for two days and occupied land on third day. False cases were foisted but they continued occupying the land.

In village Kherhi, the Sarpanch and his henchmen attacked the Dalits occupying plots, but Dalits gave a befitting reply and the goons had to beat a retreat. Though both sides received injuries but cases were registered against Dalits alone. Six Dalits were arrested and sent to jail whereas the case is also against six more Dalits who could not be arrested. Dalits in Nadampur and Kherhi continue occupation of residential lands.

In village Jhaneri, a large portion of panchayat land has benn given for a Gaushala on 30 years lease on rent of Rs. 7000 per acre. Dalits last year fought that their share should not decrease as a result of this lease. ZPSC this year is basing its argument for rent reduction on the basis that if rent for cattle is Rs. 7000 it should be less for human beings. In this village, auction was held stealthily, without any public notice, where land was given to the henchmen of the Sarpanch, the ex–Chairman of Block Samiti, an ex-President of Truckers Union and a right hand man of the MLA. But Dalits occupied the land, put up a tent and flag and sat on day & night dharna. Meantime Dalits of village Ballad Kalan moved to occupy the land which they were tilling for last two years. In this background, auction of Ballad land was kept for 24th May. On that day nearly hundred people, mostly women (as men stayed on the land) gheraoed the BDPO office where auction was being held. Auction of two portions out of thirteen was held. After gherao auction was stopped, but people insisted that the auction of two plots be cancelled. In the evening police forcibly took the officials out. Villagers blocked the highway. Police came in large number and started beating people who were 250 in number including women. When lathi charge did not succeed in quelling the people’s resolve, police resorted to firing. Police brutally beat people including women. People retreated to the village Sujan which was less than a kilometer away and collected there and challenged the police. Then police, which was following the people, retreated. In the evening police, in large number, held a flag march in the village. Immediately after this, ZPSC held a rally in the village. Next day a case was registered against 71 people by name and another hundred unidentified persons under a number of sections of Indian Penal Code including section 307 i.e. attempt to murder and a witch-hunt was launched. Two days later police attacked the Jhaneri camp, rounded up more than forty persons in the wee hours. In the evening women were released and 23 members were booked under various sections and sent to jail. Surjan Singh Jhaneri, vice president of ZPSC, was arrested and booked under the cases registered after Ballad Kalan lathicharge also. Eight persons of Ballad Kalan were arrested on the spot and are in jail.

Next, Dalits of village Mander occupied their share of the panchayat land and put up a tent and sat on a continuous dharna which is continuing. After this, Dalits of village Dhandiwal and Kheri in Sherpur block (not the other Kheri where struggle for residential plots is going on) moved into their share of panchayat land. Similarly one village in Malerkotla block staged a dharna in front of SDM office and warned him that if land of their share is not given within two days, they will occupy the land.

Despite heavy police repression, people are continuing their agitation. The agitation has shown that Dalits, long deprived of their rights, have risen. They have risen against the domination of landlords over even their share of land. They have risen to challenge the social and political domination of the landlords in the villages. They have risen against semifeudal relations and landlord oppression. They have risen against the social base of the ruling classes. While Akali-BJP Govt. has unleashed repression, even the main opposition party, Congress, is silent on the issue. Not only that, even the main leaders of Aam Admi Party (AAP), which is bidding for power in Punjab, are silent on the issue.

A four member team of Janhastakshep had gone from Delhi and released a statement on the police repression. The team consisted of Convenor of Janhastakshep, Dr. Ish Mishra, teacher in Hindu College, Delhi University, Co-convenor, Dr. Vikas Bajpai, teacher in JNU and senior journalists, Shri Anil Dubey and Rajesh Kumar. The team went to several villages where this movement is going on and which were affected by severe police repression. The team found a deep commitment on the part of the people, particularly women, to continue the agitation despite the repression unleashed by the state Govt. and its police. Women particularly stressed that this is not only a struggle for an economic demand but it is a struggle for their self-respect. Any person acquainted with rural India knows the sufferings of the landless in the villages when they are dependent on land owning classes not only for their employment but even for their day to day needs. Thus the struggle for land is not only for economic interests but also for their social and political rights in rural India.

There are two important features of this struggle. It shows that land question is very much present even in Punjab, though there is a widespread propaganda even believed by some communist revolutionaries that land question does not exist in Punjab. Land question exists throughout India though its forms and expressions vary. In Punjab where capitalist methods of agriculture are used most extensively, at present the struggle is on Dalit share of panchayat land though it is not the only form in which land question exists in Punjab. Panchayat land in Punjab is about 1 lakh 57 thousand acres and Dalit share of this land amounts to over 52 thousand acres. This struggle has once again brought back the focus on land struggle.

Secondly, this is the struggle of Dalit villagers. It shows that lack of Dalits’ share in means of production, principally land, is one of the important basis for caste oppression. The debate on caste oppression is focused on issues of urban educated Dalits and hence this struggle brings the more basic aspect of caste oppression to the fore. No wonder the so-called messiahs of Dalits are silent on this struggle. It shows their lack of sincerity to do away with the basis of caste oppression faced by Dalits. These too are parties of ruling classes and while they use Dalit votes for coming to power, they do not address the real causes of their degraded status in the villages where bulk of Dalits live. It is only by mobilizing Dalits for capture of land and for their share in means of production that basis of caste oppression can be dented and the unity of the poor against exploitation and oppression including caste oppression can be achieved in practice. On the other hand, the struggle has unleashed the initiative and energy of Dalits including women, who describe this struggle as not merely for economic benefits but for self-respect as well. This struggle also broadens the scope of debate on how to fight caste oppression in the country. The struggle has caught the imagination of Dalit masses in Punjab and the struggle is brewing in several other centres.