15 October 2015, Lahore, Pakintan
Pakistan Kissan Rabita Committee (PKRC), SAAPE Food Sovereignty Campaign focal organisation in Pakistan, organised a seminar on the topic of “land mafia, feudalism and food sovereignty” on 15th October 2015, the international day of peoples’ struggle for food sovereignty. The seminar was attended by over 80 representatives of peasantry from 16 different districts of Punjab.
The special guest on the occasion was Balram Banskota, General Secretary, All Nepal Peasants’ Federation (ANPFa). The seminar was chaired by Abid Hasan Minto, President Awami Workers Party and a long standing campaigner against feudalism. The meeting was conducted by Saima Zia of PKRC. The seminar was held at Pak Heritage Hotel on Davis Road, Lahore.
Speaking on the occasion, Abid Hassan Minto demanded the government that food sovereignty should be made part of the Constitution. He said that in order to give rights to peasants, the country should have new land reforms and all state lands should be given to its tenants. He was of the view that the poor should be empowered and be made part of the assemblies so that the real representatives of the working class could be made part of the governance system.
A country is merely not comprised of land but it is masses that represent a state, he said adding, that it is a basic right of the tenants to have ownership of lands they are tilling for decades. We have moved our case in the Supreme Court on the issue of land reforms and ownership rights for the slum dwellers, Minto said. He expressed the hope that his party would win the case and ensure provision of rights to the poor but deserving people.
Speaking on the occasion, Balram Banskota, General Secretary of ANPFa, lamented that his country nowadays was being punished by what he called Indian imperialism for adopting a secular Constitution. He added that this Constitution was aimed at serving the Nepalese but impediments had been created against its implementation. The vast majority of Nepalese people voted for the constitution, but it was still being disputed by the Indians. The unannounced blockade of Nepal has made life of ordinary Nepalese a hell. He observed that the Nepalese government had accepted food sovereignty as part of the Constitution and expressed the hope that other South Asian governments would follow.
Balram Banskota vowed to highlight the plight of the poor of the South Asia in every respect. `We stand for the poor of the South Asia, but the governments were pressing ahead with a neo-liberal agenda, which is pushing millions down the poverty line. He said that both Pakistani and Nepalese farmers were suffering at the hands of multinationals and neo liberal forces. Thus, he maintained, both needed to join hands and wage a common struggle.
Farooq Tariq, General Secretary of PKRC demanded ownership rights for tenants, saying that state lands should be given to them. He called for an end to feudalism in the country through Constitutional reforms. He said that all state land should be given to the tenants constitutionally. The effort to eject tenants of military lands must end, and it would be resisted by all possible means, he said.
Mehr Abdul Sattar, General Secretary Anjuman-i-Mazareen Okara, spoke on the occasion and said that the government was still punishing tenants of military lands. The leaders of the tenants were still being implicated in fake FIRs. He gave a detailed history of the land mafia and their struggle against them. He said that his organisation was resisting the Military farms administration that was eager to get the land vacated. He told the seminar that their organisation represented over one million peasants working on state land.
Badar Nisa, a women’s activist at the Kulyana Military Estate in Okara district told that one of our friends Razaq, was killed last week by a firing squad because he claimed the right to ownership of the land confiscated 15 years earlier by the army officers. He was father of six daughters. He was kidnapped while he was sleeping at his home at gun point, and was shot dead outside the village. His father and brother were earlier killed in 2009 by the gangsters of the Military farms administrations. She said that violence against small landowners began in 2000, when General Musharraf (then Chief of Staff of the armed forces) asked farmers to abandon their status as independent farmers and become contract workers under the military, who took possession of their land. The tenants rejected this proposal and they refused to share the profit with the military farms administration and insteadto pay the tenancy cost to the Punjab revenue department. Since that time, the army confiscated land arbitrarily, giving rise to the so-called “land mafia”, i.e a system of criminal collusion between local authorities and wealthy landowners who seize the agricultural areas by force. Since then 14 peasants were killed, several others wounded and arrested, including Catholic activists who defended their rights. In 2000 a movement of landless tenants of Punjab was founded (AMP, Anjuman Muzareen Punjab), which now has 1 million members.
Badrul Nisa is also a victim of the violence in 2005; police attacked her village and has fractured his right shoulder and a knee.
The speakers called for justice for the murdered tenants- like Razzaq – demanding the restitution of lands and farms confiscated by the armed forces. The Pakistan army in fact claims ownership of six farms that stretch for 68 thousand acres in the Okara district and that belonged to local farmers for over 100 years.
The speakers called for the end of all false cases against farmers in Okara, and the release of those arrested.
The SAAPE/PKRC event in Lahore brought more unity among the representatives of peasants and raised the issue of food sovereignty in a concrete form.
Balram Banskota presented his introduction through a power point on the issues relating to food sovereignty and it was received very well.
A three hours proceeding was one of the rare occasion where representatives of peasants from 16 districts were present and the issues discussed in a comradely manner.