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Punjab Farmers Hold Massive Protests Against Manipur Violence

All sections of society have condemned the Centre and the Manipur government for the violence and sexual crimes against women in the northeastern state.
Manipur Violence

Image for representational purpose. 

On Sunday, 6 August, the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ekta-Ugrahan) organised a massive rally led by women in the Mohali district to support the rape victims in Manipur. This follows all the political parties of Punjab, including the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Congress, strongly criticising the central and Manipur governments for the violence and sexual assaults in Manipur.

Intense anger has built up in all sections of Punjabi society over events in Manipur. Over the last few weeks, social, cultural, student, employee and other organisations have held more than 100 protest demonstrations, decrying those events. People participated in large numbers in these demonstrations, which held Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Manipur Chief Minister N Biren Singh responsible for the continued violence.

Joginder Singh Ugrahan, who heads Punjab’s largest farmer organisation, the BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan), says the Modi government first tried to destroy agriculture by bringing in three agricultural laws. In the same way, during the Manipur violence, the central government amended the Forest Rights Act so that contract farming, such as palm oil plantations, take over the northeastern states.

“Punjab’s farmers consider it their duty to raise their voices on the crisis in Manipur, where the Bharatiya Janata Party’s double-engine government has perpetrated repressive violence by favouring one community or remaining absent. As usual, women have been the main targets in this violence,” Ugrahan says. He also says that the message from farmers—who resisted the four farm laws—to the tribal people of the North East is that violence in Manipur is part of an effort to thwart people’s solidarity against such policies.

Kuldeep Kaur Kussa, the woman leader of the BKU (Ekta-Ugrahan), says they will hand over a memorandum to the governor, and preparations are on through door-to-door and village-level meetings across Punjab.

Protesting activists across Punjab have been saying that the BJP government has created a conflict between two communities in Manipur so that it can return to power after the 2024 Lok Sabha election. They say the BJP wants to uproot the Kuki tribal community from its lands in Manipur so that their traditional forests and lands can be handed over to big corporate houses.

Leaders of many other outfits, such as Lok Morcha, have also been explaining the concerns of Manipur’s people to Punjabis. Jagmel Singh and Sheerin of Lok Morcha have been distributing pamphlets from house to house and holding street meetings which explain the similarity between the dangers of the four agricultural laws and the risks inherent to the central government allowing hostility to fester among the people of Manipur. They also highlight how laws which could snatch away the water, forest, and lands of the tribal people will only make way for big capitalists at the cost of ordinary people.

Aman Deol, a leader of the Stree Jagruti Manch Punjab, says, “The Centre and the state government of Manipur are directly responsible for these incidents. So, we are not just raising our voices for the women of Manipur but the people of Punjab and the entire country. Earlier, BJP leaders exposed their character in Unnao, Hathras, and Kathua incidents. There is no place for minorities, Dalits, tribals and women in their Hindutva ideology. People must maintain brotherhood and thwart hateful politics, especially until the 2024 election.”

There have been impressive demonstrations against the Manipur violence and brutal rape in Sangrur, Patiala, Malerkotla, Mohali, Barnala, Ludhiana, Mansa, Bathinda, Moga, Faridkot, Jalandhar and Fatehgarh Sahib.

Ramesh, a shopkeeper who participated in such a demonstration in Faridkot, says, “I was filled with shame after seeing the images from Manipur. On the one hand, the BJP government at the Centre talks about ‘Beti Bachao Beti Padhao—Save Daughters, Educate Daughters’. On the other hand, women in a state it rules undergo such suffering. It took 79 days for the Prime Minister to speak out. The Chief Minister is still making irresponsible statements. This is very sad. People have expressed their anger in many villages of our area to show that they stand with our suffering sisters in Manipur.”

Aman, a student leader of Panjab University, Chandigarh, says people from across sections participated in a protest held late in July in Chandigarh, including students in good numbers. There is a lot of anger among students about Manipur, says student leader Sandeep of the Punjabi University. Also, strong demonstrations were held in Patiala, Punjab’s Guru Nanak Dev University Amritsar and students in many other colleges in Punjab. They have been raising their voices against the violence in Manipur and favouring the Kuki women who were paraded in particular.

When asked for the perspective of minority communities on the issue, Paramjit Singh Mand, leader of Dal Khalsa, says the issue must be seen from the point of view of humanity. “First, the ideology of the BJP and the Sangh is to make the brothers fight each other. And we know their thinking about women from the rapes during the Gujarat massacre. The opposition is rightly protesting against the Manipur issue, but it must do more than ever. All minorities, tribals, and Dalits should unite against the BJP’s ideology. Even Hindus are in trouble under Modi’s rule. This government creates conflicts when elections approach, including in Punjab recently, but people must not allow this.”

The writers, artists and intellectuals of Punjab have also spoken out against the suffering of the people of Manipur. Two prominent literary outfits, the Kendriya Punjabi Lekhak Sabha and the Pragatisheel Lekhak Sangh, Punjab, have also protested. Dr Sukhdev Singh Sirsa, general secretary of the Kendriya Punjabi Lekhak Sabha, says, “This is the biggest failure of the BJP government and a matter of shame for it that Kuki women were humiliated by a mob of one community. Everyone, especially writers, must oppose the despicable act of making people fight and making women pawns in political games.”

The question arises, why is there such large-scale anger against the violence in Manipur in Punjab? Prof Jagmohan, general secretary of the Jamhoori Adhikar Sabha Punjab, who is also the nephew of Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, says, “Punjab is a land of people’s struggles with a powerful people’s movement and a legacy of revolutionaries like Gurus, Gadri Babas, and Bhagat Singh. For this reason, those who break the fraternal partnership have not yet been able to set foot here.”

The farmer’s movement could originate here because of the pro-people instincts of Punjabis, which inspires people to raise their voices for others as well—be it the Kashmiri people after Article 370 was trampled on, against the Citizenship Amendment Act or to demand justice in Manipur.

The author is an independent journalist. The views are personal.

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