By Abhishek Jha:
Following a clash that happened in Jaloor village of Sangrur district in Punjab between Dalit peasants and Jat landlords on October 5, civil rights organisations are to demand the NHRC and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes to intervene . In a press conference in Delhi held on October 8, they reiterated the demands being made by the Dalit peasants in Sangrur district under the banner of Zamin Prapti Sangharsh Committee (ZPSC) since 2014, and demanded that cases registered against them after the October 5 incident be withdrawn. The conference was organised by Janhastakshep, a Delhi based civil rights organisation.
20 people from ZPSC were reportedly arrested after a clash between ZPSC members and a few Dalit families, who allegedly are supported by a landlord belonging to the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD). The clash, according to reports, had happened after ZPSC members harvested 9 acres of paddy crop, which had been auctioned at the rate of Rs 31,000 per acre three months of ago. Vikas Bajpai, co-convener of Janhastakshep, said that it was “symbolic harvesting” to protest against the take-over of the land by Jat landlords.
According to the Punjab Village Common Lands Regulation Act 1961, one third of the cultivable land proposed to be leased is reserved for members of the Scheduled Caste to be given on lease by auction. The ZPSC claims that Jat landlords hoist “dummy Dalit candidates” for the auction, who bid higher with their help, but the control over the land remains with the landlord. Therefore, an agitation to wrest the land back has been on since 2014, with the participants including Dalit students, women, and even small peasants of the Jat community.
K. B. Saxena, who has served formerly as Joint Secretary, Land Reforms, said at the conference that Dalits in Punjab have this right under law and that is being frustrated by the Jat landlords. “This is when the population of Dalits in Punjab is more than anywhere else in the country. It’s nearly 30 percent. Even then this is the situation. There is consciousness too among the Dalits. But they don’t get the administration’s support,” he said. Bajpai also questioned why the government does not implement this as a welfare scheme but as a revenue generation scheme, where the highest bidder gets the land.
Asked whether legal measures could be taken, N.D. Pancholi, Delhi President of PUCL, said that public movements are required more than legal measures. “More than that public pressure, public movement, awareness among the people that the Dalits are rising (is required). They are claiming. They are fighting for their rights. That is seen as the most dangerous response by upper-caste. So they are afraid. They want to crush this rising power of Dalits by all kinds of methods,” he said.
Asked why no political party has taken up the issue despite the impending assembly elections, Saxena said, “You’ll have to see that whether it’s AAP, BJP, Congress, or Akali Dal, with which class their power base lies. The power base of all mainstream parties is with the landlords”. Bajpai added that they would have taken it up if the demand was for some “minor concessions”, “which do not disturb or question the power balance in the society in a fundamental way”. “In a state like Punjab the questions of land is not equivalent to giving these minor concessions,” he said. “Kejriwal went and he visited the Dera of some sant, barely a few kilometres from Sangrur and very close to Bald Kalan, very close to the center of this agitation. But he never bothered to visit the peasants who had been injured or all that or enquire upon (the agitation). So for them all these sections are ephemeral,” he added.
Organisations and individuals, including Rajinder Sachar, former Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court, are to therefore submit a memorandum to the NHRC and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes to intervene. The list of demands is to include restraining of the “Akali-BJP government and its police form providing patronage to the upper caste landlord goons in Sangrur”, release of all Dalits arrested and withdrawal of cases against them. They are also to demand registration of cases and arrest of the landlords who attacked the Dalits, suspension of and inquiry into guilty police officers for dereliction of duty, restoration of “democratic right of the dalit peasantry to stage demonstrations and protest for articulating their demands under the leadership of the ZPSC”. Finally, they demand that the”district administration be enforced to strictly ensure that the dalits have de facto control over the one third share of Panchayat land meant for dalits”.
Featured and banner image source: Janhastakshep report on ZPSC