In the farm laws protests, are Punjab’s landless peasants getting left behind? -Prabhjit Singh
On 21 February, over one lakh farmers and agricultural labourers gathered at a rally in Punjab’s Barnala district to pledge unity in the movement against the 2020 farm laws. The rally was organised by the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ekta Ugrahan) and the Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union, two of the biggest unions that represent the interests of the landless peasants and work in tandem with each other. The BKU (EU) president, Joginder Singh Ugrahan, addressed the crowd and appealed for farm labourers to reach Tikri—a major sit-in against the laws on Delhi’s borders—for a show of strength on 27 and 28 February. But on 28 February, the cadre of the PKMU was absent from Tikri and there was no large gathering of farm labourers. When I called PKMU’s general secretary, Lachhman Singh Sewewala, he said, post the Barnala rally, he told Ugrahan that the labourers could not afford to reach Delhi.
Over the course of the protests, activists and union leaders have repeatedly stressed how the farm laws would impact the predominantly landless farm labourers just as much as the landowning farmers. Historically, the two communities have often been at odds with each other in Punjab due to age-old class and caste dynamics that favour the landowners. Most farm labourers in the state are landless and a significant number of them are from the Scheduled Caste community. By most estimates, the Dalit community forms about 32 per cent of Punjab’s population, but they own only around 3 percent of land. Jat Sikhs, who form about 25 percent of the population, are known to own large swathes of farmland. Yet, despite the calls for landless farm labourers of Punjab to participate in the movement, in six months of reporting on the farmers’ movement, it was evident that they were not as dominant in the protests as farmers.
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CaravanMagazine.in, 22 March, 2021, https://caravanmagazine.in/agriculture/in-the-farm-laws-protests-are-punjabs-landless-peasants-getting-left-behind?fbclid=IwAR18MceGCsDzuhDAeKN6p6rXXjPfx-P6vhvweRvGSuCMs5XfIV6abO8oaOw
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