“Jab takk manushyo ke haathon manushyo ki loot khatam nahi hoti, tab takk yeh jang jaari rahegi,” said Harjinder Singh, a farmer and member of Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union (PKMU), while addressing a gathering of protesters at Lehra-Bega toll plaza in Punjab’s Malwa region. At around 122 locations across Punjab, hundreds of farmers and labourers had assembled on Saturday to celebrate Kisan-Mazdoor Diwas in the memory of saint and reformer Ravi Das and revolutionary Chandrasekhar Azad on his martyrdom day.
Kisan-Mazdoor Diwas is a part of the series of events announced by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella organisation of farmers unions spearheading the movement, to intensify the protests and also devise a strategy to prolong the agitation against the three “controversial” agricultural laws, which the farmers have accused of serving corporate interests. An appeal was also announced to join the protesters on Delhi borders to exhibit the unity between peasants and workers on Saturday.
Shingara Singh Mann, 60, from Bathinda is one among the many who reached Delhi borders yesterday late evening to join the protesting farmers. He was was joined by hundred others along with his two sons and a daughter.
Speaking to Newsclick, Mann said that several fresh batches adding up to roughly 10,000 farmers and labourers, including around 3,500 women from Punjab, have participated in the protests at Delhi borders on Saturday. “Around 700-800 jathas left yesterday. We will be staying here tonight and would leave tomorrow for Punjab,” Mann said.
The resonance of the protests at the Delhi borders could be felt inside Punjab where farmers and labourers who could not visit the national capital had gathered in thousands at different protest sites to voice their resentment.
Mann’s wife, who could not participate in the protest at Delhi borders, had joined the vigil at the Lehra-Bega toll plaza. “The idea is to keep the movement alive by hook or crook. Jad Modi maan luga, aaesi hatt jaavange (When Modi relents, we will leave).”
Lachhman Singh Sewewala, general secretary of Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union (PKMU), has been at the forefront of mobilising opinions of agricultural labourers by educating them. Commenting on the significance of Kisan-Mazdoor Ekta Diwas (Pesants-Workers Unity Day), he says that the impact of the farm laws will be greater on the labourers than farmers.
“Everyone has missed the point; the labourers who are majorly dependent on farmers will be the first ones to be impacted by these black laws. Hence, such unity programmes hold a lot of significance,” Sewewala said.
At the protest sites in Punjab, PKMU has given an important call for a state-level rally and a protest march in Bathinda on March 15 by PKMU. Lacchman says that the rally is the first ever rally of agricultural labourers and it will be joined by thousands of labourer--both men and women from across Punjab.
“The idea is to make workers aware about the disastrous impact of the farm laws on the lives of the labourers. Also, the role of labourers in the fight against the farm laws will be highlighted,” he added,
As per PKMU, the issues including oppression faced by Dalits, mounting debt on labourers, amendments to labour laws, and the issue of land distribution will be raised at the protest march.
According to PKMU secretary, Harmesh Malri, the ‘pro-corporate’ policies of the government will throw labourers deep into the crisis. “These farm laws are the tools to give corporate houses the Panchayati Saamlat and government lands over which the farm-labourers have a legal right.”
As reported earlier by Newsclick, the farm labourers fear that the Punjab Village Common Lands Regulation Act, 1961, which gives ownership rights to over one-third of common land or Panchayat land to Dalits, a large part of whom are labourers, will be the first affected by these laws.
At Lehra-Bega toll plaza, a young protester could be heard saying from the makeshift stage set up that is blocking the movement of vehicles passing through the toll counters: “Aae ladai apne haqa di aae. Haq leke ee jaavange. Kisan mazdoor ekta zindabad (This fight is for our rights. We will only leave when our demands are fulfilled. Long live peasants workers unity).”