Stop Crackdown on Dalit Workers' Struggle for Housing in Punjab sign now

To

Shri Manmohan Singh,

Hon'ble Prime Minister,



Sub: Intervention sought in the mass arrest of rural poor and dalit workers in Punjab

Dear Sir,

We are writing to seek your urgent intervention in the mass arrests of dalit agricultural labourers in Mansa, Sangrur and Bathinda districts of Punjab. Since 21 May, over 1300 agricultural labourers and labour leaders, including 511 women and 42 children, have been locked up in different jails of Punjab. Almost all the activists and leaders of the Mazdoor Muktio Morcha and the CPI(ML) (Liberation) in Punjab have been jailed, and even the most peaceful protests and ordinary political activities by these groups is facing a crackdown. Some of the senior activists have been isolated from the others and confined along with hardened criminals and are being harassed within the jail. This includes Jasbir Kaur Nat, a National Council Member of the AIPWA, who is held in Naba jail , in violation of her rights as a political prisoner.

The arrests have happened in the course of a struggle for NREGA job cards and homestead plots promised by the SAD-BJP State Government. The SAD-BJP Government launched this offensive immediately following the Lok Sabha elections, where the results reflected the disenchantment of the rural poor with the government.

In Punjab, where agriculture is highly mechanised, rural poor often get very few days of employment a month whereby the rural poor had pinned their hopes for survival on the extension of NREGA to all rural districts in the country. Consequently, the failure of the administration to provide NREGA job cards, and the fact that the Punjab Govt. returned 350 crores of NREGA funds unused to the Centre, became a major issue.

The Akali-BJP Government had moreover reneged on its promise to provide homestead plots (5 marla plots for every rural poor family). It was in protest against this denial of basic rights of livelihood and housing, that agricultural labourers of Mansa district, led by the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha and CPI(ML), occupied a portion of panchayat/commons land allotted to be leased to workers. Under the Land Consolidation Act 1961, one-third of panchayat land is meant for agricultural workers on lease for cultivation and it was this land that the agricultural workers used to build their hutments, until such a time that the Government would keep its promise to allot house plots.

Naturally, for women from dalit labouring background, the issue of both NREGA job cards and land is a very important one, and so they participated in very large numbers in the agitation.

This movement for land and work began prior to the elections and continued even during the elections. The Akali-BJP Government, it seems, has waited till the elections were over, to begin an all-out crackdown. The agricultural workers had begun a peaceful dharna on 17 May and held a massive Rally on 19 May, which put enough pressure on local officials to effect an agreement to ensure job cards within one month and house plots to all within three months. The very next day, local upper caste land owners began a road-roko protest demanding eviction of the poor from the panchayat land, and, one cue, on 21 May, labour leaders, including even the General Secretary of the All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU), Comrade Swapan Mukherjee, were arrested. On 22 May, over 1000 workers including a very large number of women and children were arrested and jailed from the dharna site, from their homes, and from the office of the Mazdoor Mukti Morcha and CPI(ML). Young children have been separated from their jailed mothers and sent to junvenile and delinquent homes without informing the parents on where their children have been confined.

The ostensible excuse for the arrests was the need to vacate the so-called illegal occupation of the panchayat land but the arrests have continued even after the forcible eviction of the poor from that land, and the demolition of their makeshift homes.

In Punjab, when rich farmers habitually occupy common land, land allotted for waste disposal, etc. the government never lifts a finger against them. It is a shame that the same government, having blatantly broken its promises of housing and livelihood, has unleashed severe repression when poor rural workers are demanding fulfilment of the governments own promise.

Even today, activists of the AIPWA, Mazdoor Mukti Morcha and CPI(ML) outside jails are being threatened with arrest at the slightest sign of any peaceful protest or ordinary political activity like party meetings. Activists who have not been jailed are being held under virtual house arrest, without any warrant and in complete violation of their fundamental rights, as the offices and homes are being encircled by the police and ordinary movement hampered. This unspoken emergency has a dimension of class and caste bias since it is the organisations of the rural workers and dalits which are being targeted and prevented from functioning.

We demand your Governments urgent intervention to ensure an end to the repression, harassment and witch-hunt being unleashed on the rural poor by the Punjab Government, immediate and unconditional release of all arrested activists and leaders of the AIPWA, Mazdoor Mukti Morcha and CPI(ML), and fulfilment of the basic and inalienable demands of agricultural labourers for land, housing and jobs.

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Latest Signatures

  • 25 November 2015100. Prof Narinders
    It is matter of workers' entitlement and I support the cause. Address Patiala
  • 14 November 201599. Zelda Ruthj
    Everyone is entitled to a safe place to live and the means to earn a living, and to struggle for these things if they are denied them.
  • 02 November 201598. Anandi R
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  • 28 October 201597. Ahmed S
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  • 22 September 201377. Neelima Sahrmashamsuli
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Adrian PerryBy:
Transport and infrastructureIn:
Petition target:
Indian Prime Minister

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