Dalits Resurrect at the time of Lockdown in Punjab

Harsh Thakor

Inspite of the turbulence caused by the clampdown Covid 19 Pandemic the spark of dalit struggle still ignites Punjab. In the last month a major resurgence has risen of the struggles of the Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee of Sangrur-Patiala, which has encompassed different areas. Positive t hat the lockdown did not dissipate the spirit of the dalit landless labourers. In a most methodical manner they revived their democratic movement. A spate of protests erupted on the burning issues facing the dalit community. Regions like Gharachon and Singla shimmered the spirit of resistance at its crescendo. Issues revolved around issue of distribution of panchayat land reserved, scrapping of loan re-payments and opposition to attacks of mafia elements on dalit activists.

On June 8th one thousand dalit villagers swarmed in Sangrur like an army and besieged the hose of minister Vijay Singh Singla, demanding reserved panchayat land promised to them.

The residents of various villages of Sangrur district, on June 9th, protested under the banner of the Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee (ZPSC) near the local residence of Punjab Cabinet Minister Vijay Inder Singla for their long-pending demands. The main demands of the committee included inquiry into the cancellation of blue cards in villages, restarting of all cancelled cards, action against officers who cancelled the cards without any valid reasons, action against micro-finance companies pressurising the poor to pay instalments of small loans despite directions of government for the relaxation due to the pandemic and auction of the reserved village common lands on merit.

“Despite our repeated requests, the administration has not been paying any heed towards our genuine demands. We would launch indefinite protest in the coming days if the authorities failed to fulfil our demands,” said Bikkar Singh, finance secretary, ZPSC.

The protestors first converged on the Sangrur-Patiala bypass to stage the protest. Later, they marched towards the residence of the Cabinet Minister, but after the intervention of senior officers, the ZPSC members decided to postpone their protest.

“The Sangrur administration had called us for a meeting on Tuesday to fulfil our demands. We have the evidence to prove that some officers are creating problems in the auction of the reserved land from the common village land. We will share all details with officers,” said Parmjit Kaur, secretary, ZPSC.

In Gharachon village of Sangrur as majority of Dalit families sat in a prolonged dharna to protest the auction of the reserved land. The protesting Dalit community members alleged that the Panchayat authorities allotted the land to “dummy bidders” planted by the members of the upper caste. This protracted struggle was of great significance to the dalit agrarian movement.

“There are two groups of Dalits in Gharachon. On one side there are 174 families, while on other side there are only five families. But Panchayat officials on May 27 allotted the reserved land of 48 acres to the representatives of these five families, who are working as dummy candidates for upper castes. Since then we have been demanding cancellation of the auction,” said Mukesh Malaud, zonal president of the Zameen Prapati Sangharash Committee (ZPSC).

Malaud alleged that on Saturday some upper caste landlords tried to take possession of the land allotted to five “dummy” bidders.

“Since members of 174 Dalit families, who have been sitting on dharna on the reserved land, opposed the move they went back,” Malaud said, adding, “We will not allow police to help the upper caste members in taking forcible possession of the land.”

Lastly an upper caste Village Chaudhary empowered with weapons by the administration attacked dalit workers when they went to till the paddy fields. The incident had direct patronage of the ruling classes. A qualitative protest was organized by dalit women.

I cannot complete the report without mention of the protest by several democratic organizations of relief package due to lockdown on June 4th which resembled a spark turning into a prairie fire in Bhawnigar, Sunam and Munak Tehsil offices. Speakers of organizations like BKU (Ugrahan), Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union, Punjab Students Union (Shhaeed Randhahwa), Kirti Kisan Union, Naujwan Bharat Sabha etc addressed. They explained how there was hardly any implementation of the relief package promised and the manner it jeopardised   the day to day lives of the people. They explained how the rulers were using the Covid lockdown to entrap the poor people further whether facing wrath of corporates or upper caste landlords. Demands were made to scrap farmers motor bills, provide ration cards, give proper employment to all, take back medical fees, impose levy on corporates, implement labour laws, provide proper water supply, transport etc.

Major grain distribution was launched in several areas predominately by the BKU (Ugrahan) and Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union which distributed over 50 lakh quintals amongst villagers. Also, creditable contribution by Krantikari Pendu Mazdoor Union bad Zameen prapti Sangharsh Commitee. The activists involved explained how the policy of the rulers was in direct conflict with the people's interests and the root cause of such Pandemics which lay in the evils of the semi-feudal social order .With articulate planning and methodology the relief work was undertaken by the mass organizations which is noteworthy in light of the wretched apathy of the ruling classes.

Report is based on information received from Mukesh Mulaudh

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Jun 20, 2020

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