10 Years of Tenants struggle in Punjab
Anjaman Mozareen Punjab is organizing a mass peasants rally on 29 June
at Okara on the eve of 10 years of AMP movement. On 29th June
2000, Major General Chattha asked the tenants working on Military Farms
Okara to change their status to “Thakedari” (contract) system. The
tenants rejected this order and felt that the move by the Military
regime under General Musharaf is to vacate this land from the peasants
and use it as corporate farming or to lease it to military officers.
was just after 8 months of the military dictatorship of General Musharaf
and the regime had started to attack the trade unions and was
implementing neo liberal agenda by force. They had successfully imposed
the 15 percent general sales tax. They have attacked the Railways
Workers Union and crushed their initial resistance to their regime. The
Military junta thought that it would be easy to ask the tenants to
change their status and then they would e able to get this land vacated.
They were proved wrong in their assessment.
The tenants contacted different political parties and social
organization to help in their fight for land rights. Over 68000 acres of
land were cultivated by tenants of different public sector agriculture
farms including the one occupied by military. The resistance did not
start immediately. They were dozens of meetings of the tenants on the
issue and then they came to a conclusion to form an organization to
organize the resistance. Many elderly peasants were opposed to the
resistance strategy and they were ready the change the status but wanted
a good price for contract system. The young and some college and
university students and graduates belonging to tenant’s families had
other ideas than that. They went along all the meetings and decided to
fight the military dictatorship.
Labour Party Pakistan got in contact with the movement in September
2001. It was after the organization AMP was formed and they had already
decided to resist. The AMP had also invited the Jamaat Islami and their
peasant wing called Kissan Board. The Kissan Board leadership was
advocating a conciliatory strategy and they were of the opinion that
tenants can not fight military dictatorship. LPP agreed with resistance
strategy and decided to help build the movement.
AMP struggle started with a slogan Malki Yaa Mout (death or ownership).
Women and youth came in the forefront and fought courageously many
attempts of the military dictatorship through rangers and police to
vacate this land. Nine peasants were killed by direct police and rangers
firing, several dozens injured and many hundreds arrested. Over 100 FIRs
were registered against the leadership of AMP during the struggle. It
was a struggle owned by almost all the political parties in opposition,
social organizations and trade unions. It was the first organized
resistance to the military dictatorship. It inspired many nationally and
internationally. AMP became an icon of struggle and a reference point.
The strategy to resist but not by arms was successful. The resistance
came through street blockades, occupation of roads, blockade of roads,
barricades around the villages, use of wooden sticks to fight the police
and rangers, rallies and demonstrations, usage of internet, solidarity
rallies in large cities of Pakistan, media stories against the
repression, successful usage of courts etc. The most successful
resistance was through blockade of main roads leading to Okara and
2002 and 2003, there was Gaza like situation for three months around 19
villages of Okara. It was a siege and no one was allowed to enter the
villages until the tenants agree to sign the contract system. During
2002, tenants were forced to sign the contract after a complete siege of
19 villages for three months. While the tenants organized their
resistance inside the villages and the rangers and police could not
enter the villages, the rangers would not allow any person to enter or
leave the villages. It was a cat and mouse story. The siege became an
international story and many foreign journalists wrote very sympathetic
article in favor of the tenants. So were the pages of several Pakistani
main stream media who were inspired with courageous stand of the poor
tenants against the very powerful army.
The high point of the struggle was the refusal of the tenants to pay 40
percent share of the crops that was paid for generation by the tenants
to the military farms administration. This was the most successful
strategy and more and more tenants joined the struggle actively as this
was their bread and butter question as well.
The movement is still on. The promises of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz
and Pakistan Peoples Party to hand over this land to the tenants have
not been fulfilled. Both parties praised the struggle of the tenants
several times and agreed that once in power, they will decide in favor
of the tenants. It has not been done despite the two parties in power
for the last two years.
The rally on 29 June will again bring together thousands of peasants on
the roads. On 22nd June 2010, Mehr Abdul Sattar, Nadeem
Asharaf, Malik Saleem Jakar, Choudry Shabir and Mohammed Hanif addressed
a press conference in Lahore to announce the programme of the rally.
They gave three months notice to government of Punjab to decide about
land ownership in favour of the tenants. They said that our rally will
remain in Okara on 29th June , and if the Punjab alliance
government of PPP and PMLN do not act within three months, we would have
no options but to march to Lahore.
They will do what they have said. If Punjab government wants to separate
the army from civilian aspects of life, this is a test case for them.
Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee have asked all the social movements and
trade unions to come and help the struggle of the peasants of Punjab for
land rights, the only way to fight feudalism in Pakistan.