PAKISTAN: Peasant movement defies repression


Farooq Tariq, Lahore

On June 5, Anjaman Mozareen Punjab (AMP), an organisation fighting for land rights at the military farms in the Okara district, organised a successful public meeting at Probanabad in Depalpur, despite extreme attempts by police to suppress it. The meeting was called to demand peasants' rights over the land, which has been occupied by the military for over 100 years.

In 2002, local AMP leader Tufail Cheema was killed after he refused to pay a share of the crop, or the "contract" amount, to the Army Welfare Trust administration. The AMP leadership raised the slogan "death or ownership" and called on all tenants not to pay.

However during the following four years, many tenants started to make the payments, apart from a handful of AMP leaders. These leaders were frequently harassed, arrested and subjected to death threats.

In May 2006, two AMP leaders who had refused to hand over the crops to the administration were beaten up by police. This sparked a new wave of rebellion.

The Labour Party Pakistan helped organise a demonstration in May. Then we contacted Asma Jehangir, chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, and invited her to speak on June 5. She agreed, but later had to cancel. We decided to go ahead with the meeting anyway, and posters were put up in all the different villages around the area.

This brought a massive reaction from the local police, who asked the AMP leadership to cancel the public meeting or "face the consequences". They also asked me not attend the meeting, telling me that I would be forcefully prevented from entering the area.

All the tent shops in Depalpur, Pakpattan and Okara were asked not to supply any tents and chairs for the meeting and police asked all the hotels not to supply food. Several police camps were established around the area and the main roads leading to the meeting place were closed.

Yet despite the police tactics, the public meeting was a massive success. The peasants brought their charpaies (cots) — more than 150 of them for seating — and all the villagers were asked to provide pieces of curtain for shading the public meeting place. It was around 44 degrees, and the curtains made a very colourful scene.

More than 2000 peasants made it to the meeting, while others were blocked by police and sent back. More than 300 peasant women at the meeting were armed with Thapaas (the wooden sticks they use to clean dirty clothes, and sometimes to "clean" the dirty police in Okara).

Close to 50 motorcycles carrying two or three people each reached the public meeting from Okara after driving over 46 kilometres in the fields to avoid arrests. Mehr Abdull Satar, the elected union council mayor of the Okara military farms, was among them.

The public meeting, addressed by more than a dozen speakers, went on for over five hours without a single person leaving before it ended. The meeting endorsed the decision of the seven villages in the area not to pay the military farms administration. The peasant rebellion has spread in a more militant form.

[Farooq Tariq is the general secretary of the Labour Party Pakistan.]

From Green Left Weekly, June 14, 2006.
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