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Let the Pandora box be opened, land to the tenants

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By Farooq Tariq
Rangers are all out to defeat and crush the uprising of Okara peasantry. Since 1st of May 2003, a virtual siege of 19 revolting villages meant a total cut off from the outside world of over 10,000 tenants of the district. There are reports of continues deaths and spreading of illness due to lack of an Immediate medical relief. Food and vegetable supplies have been stopped. Telephone lines are disconnected. Vendors are severely beaten up and there no more daring vendors.

No one from outside these villages is allowed to enter the village without the permission of the ranger’s authorities. Any relative of the tenants of the Okara Military Farms are immediately picked up and tortured at ranger’s headquarters. The demand from these relatives is that they call their tenants relatives and ask them to pay the “Theka”, the contract amount.

There are check points at most of the known roads to these villages. Rangers and police are on 24 hour duty to control the situation. “Only an iron hand can be of any use” is been the philosophy of the rangers authorities.

The ranger’s authorities claim that all the tenants have signed on the contract agreement last year and now they must pay. If they do not pay, they have no right to go outside their villages. In the similar manner, last year during August and September 2002, these tenants were besieged for over two months. They were asked by their leadership of Anjaman Mozareen Punjab (Tenants Association Punjab) to “surrender” and sign the forced contract. It may help to lift the siege.

The Okara peasantry has so for not agreed to pay the Theka and have continued their famous movement of “Malki Yaa Mout” (Ownership or death). They say that they have paid enough and no more. For over 100 years these peasants have been paying around 40 per cent of the total crops to different government departments, the last one for over 20 years is the military farms management.

But they have to pay a deer price for their rising up. One peasant Amir Ali was killed by the indiscriminate firing of rangers on 11th May at Chack 5/4L. 20 of them got seriously injuries on May 5th during a peaceful demonstration by the firing, tear gas and lathi charge of the rangers. Most of them women. According to the latest report issued by AMP, during 12th and 24th May, 8 more persons have died for various reasons, all linked to the siege of the area.

Why all this? and how did it started?

As part of reform programme, and to curb the corruption in the public sector, the military generals put a proposal during the year 2000, that the tenants become the lessee and pay a little less Theka than they pay as “Betai” (part of the crop). The reason put forward by the military authorities was that there is a lot of corruption and military is not getting enough amounts out of these tenants, so the system must change.

The proposal was vigorously opposed by the tenants. They felt and quite correctly that it is simple way to kick them out of the land. It was not easy for them to leave the land where four generation of them have been living and dying. They had all the reason to doubt the motives of the military authority’s proposal. They had heard from within that several of the military generals are very keen to take the land as this has become precious and only two hours away from Lahore.

During the year 2001, they named themselves as what they are “Mozareen”. Yousan Iqbal, one of founding member and ex chairman of AMP now imprisoned at Sahiwal jail, “there were several proposals of the name of the organsoiation that we were going to form to say no to the new proposal. But ultimately, we all agree that we are not zeminadars and neither Kashtkars, we are Mozareen and should be called Mozareen”.

That was the beginning of the movement not seen for decades during the fifty five years of Pakistan independence. Started from Okara, the AMP now represents all the tenants of different public sector agricultural farms. They are cultivating over 68000 acres of land belonging to military farms, Punjab Seed Corporation, Agricultural Research Farms, Rice research farms and some others.

The main and unique feature of this peasant movement was the mobilization of the women and youth. The women led several militant demonstrations and had neck to neck fight with police and rangers, who were there to arrest some of the peasant leaders. The “Thapa force” led by women became the driving force of the movement.

Khadim Hussian, a tenant from Chack 5/4L was more than happy with the participation of women. He told me that one constable from the ranger cynically remarked about the participation of women in the demonstration like this, “You are “Begairat” that you have brought your women in the open”. I told him that at least our women are with us and we know where they are but you do not know where your women are because you leave them alone at home. The constable from ranger left him quietly.

It would have been OK for the military management if the tenants would have limited themselves to some processions and demanded the ownership rights of the land. “ It would have made no difference to them, so we decided to go further and took a democratic decision with a total unanimity not to pay any more. We in fact became the owners of the land at least in practice” says Abdul Sattar from Chack 4/4L.

Abdul Sattar was elected Nazim of the local union council with a massive majority. He resigned to contest the provincial assembly elections of October 2002. He was vigorously opposed by the state as anti state element and should not be allowed to contest. One of the very few from the tenant background, who had a master degree, his nomination papers were rejected by the returning office and the decision was upheld till Supreme Court. He had no criminal cases registered against him till the movement started. At present, he is the most wanted peasant leader by the rangers but still not arrested. The present wave of unrest started when his younger brother and uncle were picked up from Sabzi Mandi Okara by the rangers on 2nd May. They were here to sell potato. Instead their trolley and tractor along with potatoes were taken away by rangers and later sold at the same market for Rupees 45000. The money off course has gone to rangers as Theka. The rangers are happily claiming that more and more tenants are paying Theka. This is just one example how the rangers are collecting Theka. Four sons in laws of the tenants are picked up from Okara city to force the tenants to pay. Once some one is forced, he not only pay the Theka but he has to address a press conference to tell the truth that he is paying on own will and voluntarily.

During the last tow years five tenants have been killed directly by the firing of the law forcing agencies. Several more have also lost their lives as result of the siege. But no one from the rangers or police have been injured or killed by the tenants. Despite this naked fact, whenever there is killing by rangers, an FIR is registered against the main leadership of AMP. The numbers of FIRs against the AMP leadership rises every day. It is at present over 106. The lies in these FIRs have broken all record of previous FIRs against the opposition leadership by different regime. Younas Iqbal, Fahim Ahmed, Sajid Baluch and Dr. Christopher Jan were picked up from Lahore on 2nd April. A Police and rangers Moqabala case was registered against them in Okara on 3rd of April.

Prominent advocates like Asma Jehangir, Abid Hasan Minto, Ihsan Wain, Nadeem Fazal and Hina Jilani have taken up several cases of these tenants to oppose the tyranny of the rangers.

A delegation of Joint Action Committee of Peoples Rights met the chief minister of Punjab and director general rangers general Hussain Mehdi on 16th and 17th May. The delegation was led by Asma Jehangir former chair person Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. Both of these leaders assured the delegation of a rapid solution of the problem. “The siege will be lifted and minor cases will be withdrawn” was the message at both ends. Nothing materialized in this regard resulting JAC to organize a day long protest camp on 24th May at Lahore Charing Cross. A protest camp is going on since 15th may at Islamabad organized by people Rights Movement.

Most of the political parties have openly supported the cause of the tenants. That includes all parties belonging to ARD, Jamaat-I-Islami, National Workers Party, Mazdoor Kissan Party, Communist Party of Pakistan and Labour party Pakistan. Qazi Hussain Ahmed Amir Jamaat-I-Islami told me on 25th May at Lahore that we will not leave the Mozareen alone in this hour of need. I will go to Okara and see who stop me going to the peasantry. So for, no delegation from political parties or social organizations has been allowed to enter Okara military farms. Although, several have made their way clandestinely.

Despite all the hue and cry of the opposition political parties and social groups, the rangers are determined to defeat this unprecedented revolt of the peasantry by any mean. Ranger may win in collecting Theka by hook and crook but they have lost the case in many ways. Almost all the newspapers editorials are in favour of the tenants. So are the sympathies and active support of many hundred thousands of the peasantry in Punjab.

“How can we give the land to these tenants. It will open a Pandora box” says the defense minister Rao Sikander Iqbal. What he meant was that it will pave the way to many more demanding lands from the feudal lords. He hails from the area and tenants are in his constituency. Before the general elections, he was keen to assure the tennats that he may be the only on who can get this matter solved. But as defense minister, he can only side with the military generals and not his own people who got him elected.

Let the pendora box be opened. Let the feudal lords including the civil and military feudals to loose their massive hold of land. Let feudalism be ended, if there is any wish for a genuine human and economic progress of the people of Pakistan.

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