INVISIBLE to the frenzied world of urban dwellers, and anchored in the rural hinterlands of Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe, live communities of peasants — small farmers, tenants, sharecroppers — joined together in their tumultuous fight against forces bent upon usurping their rights to land, to produce and to continue their way of life. La Via Campesina (literally ‘the peasant way’) is a unique international labour movement representing 200 million rural workers in 73 countries.
Today, April 17, is the International Day of Peasants Struggles celebrated by La Via Campesina the world over to honour the 19 members of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement who were shot dead by the military police on this day in 1996 in the village of Eldorado Los Carajás during a demonstration against federal appropriation of land cultivated by 3,000 rural families.
(First published in Daily Dawn, Karachi, Pakistan, in its Sunday Magazine edition, on 10 August 1997. Later published in Sampark: Journal of Global Understanding, Pakistan: an age of violence, Vol. 4, Issue 1, 2004, New Delhi)
14 August 1996: It’s quiet outside. No traffic. But something is amiss. On this 49th anniversary of Pakistan. What is that? I try to figure out. Oh, yes. Now I remember. It`s the sound of cannon-fire. Twenty-one salutary shots to be exact, in the morning. Yes, I didn’t hear cannon-fire this morning. We are too far away from the Naval post in Manora Island. Is it 25 km or 30 km from Gulistan-e-Jauher?
I recall the morning of the Independence Day just a year after the 1965 war with India, when I was 13; I had woken up with a start at the sound of the cannon-fire and thought another war had begun. ‘Do you hear this sound?’ In panic, I had rushed to my parents’ bedroom. ‘Go back to sleep. They are celebrating Independence Day’, my father had told me. But somehow, for many years, that salutary cannon-fire kept disturbing me annually. Why can’t they fill the air with chimes, or some kind of music, instead of this thunderous, terrifying, terrible sound?