Severe Crackdown on Land Struggle in Punjab

The Akali-led NDA Government in Punjab has launched an all-out witch-hunt and attack on agricultural labourers in Mansa district – for the crime of demanding that the Government keep its promise of house plots to rural poor. As we go to press, around 3000 agricultural workers, mostly Dalits, have been picked up by the police, and leaders of the CPI(ML) and Mazdoor Mukti Morcha are under arrest. Shockingly, the All India General Secretary of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), Comrade Swapan Mukherjee, as well State Secretary Comrade Rajwinder Rana, was picked up from the home of a comrade, and has been jailed. 
Agricultural labourers in Mansa, under the banner of the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha and CPI(ML), launched a protest since April against the betrayal of the Akali Government’s promise of housing plots. A mass movement developed, in which the workers, even as elections were underway, occupied panchayat land. A third of panchayat land is supposed to be available on lease for workers for agricultural purposes – but it is usually grabbed by more powerful wealthy land owners. The land occupied by the workers is land legitimately available to them, even by the law of the land. Workers planted red flags on the land, and began constructing homes on the land and moving in. From 17 May onwards a dharna began. On 19 May, a massive Rally was held, in which 7000 villagers from 30 villages took part. CPI(ML) State Secretary Comrade Rajvinder Rana, CPI(ML) leader Tarsem Jodhan, and CPI leader Comrade Jagroot led the Rally. As a result of the Rally, local officials came to an agreement that job cards under NREGA would be issued withiRally on May 19, 2009 Mansan 1 month and house plots within 3 months. The officials tried but failed to pressurise the workers to leave the panchayat land they had occupied. Subsequent to the agreement, kulak sections of the villages launched a protest and a rasta roko demanding eviction of the agricultural workers from the panchayat land. The workers, vigilant till the agreement is implemented, decided to continue with their dharna. 
On 21 May, however, there were wholesale arrests of comrades at the dharna site, as well as leaders of the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha and the entire Mansa leadership of CPI(ML). AICCTU Comrade Swapan Mukherjee was also taken into custody on that day. Subsequently, there is a continuing spate of harassment, arrests, and assaults on the movement. Every day, thousands are picked up – while many are being taken several miles away and then released, it is uncertain how many are being jailed outside the district. And the witch-hunt of leaders continues, with leaders being picked up from their homes. On 22 may, there was a severe lathicharge on the people occupying and living on panchayat land – mainly women. While female police were present, it was male police who brutalized the women with a free hand.

The kind of all-out assault being launched on the poor labourers can be contrasted with the situation all over Punjab where rich farmers who habitually occupy common land, land allotted for waste disposal, etc… are never taken to task. The repressive and authoritarian character of the SAD-BJP Government in Punjab is proved by the ongoing crackdown.