Indian Farmers’ Movement and Collective Agency

Published in Dawn, March 7th, 2021

The key elements of neoliberal policies — free market, minimal state intervention and flexible labour — hinge on a crucial principle which, according to Noam Chomsky, is “undermining mechanisms of social solidarity and mutual support and popular engagement in determining policy”. Yet, despite the crushing creed of neoliberalism that gives precedence to individual ‘freedom’ over collective agency, strong resistance to neoliberal hegemony is alive and kicking in the world.

One such voice you find at home is of the Anjuman-i-Mazarain Punjab where apparently ‘all is quiet’ since its general secretary Abdul Sattar Mehar was acquitted in September 2020 after four years of incarceration. The Anjuman’s struggle against corporatisation of farms is ongoing as successive governments have not granted them land ownership. It has been two decades since tenant-cultivators in Okara and the adjoining districts took control of the farms and stopped paying rent.

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Harvest of Hope

Published in Newsline in May 2018

When the warm sun, that brings

Seed-time and harvest, has
returned again…

 — Longfellow

 

Asma Jahangir addressing the farmers in Okara.

As the farmers in Punjab harvested a bumper crop of wheat, on the Okara Military Farms this April, there was palpable tension in the air. Several women in each village set up camp and kept vigil on the fields, lest the men in uniform appear and demand their batai (share). For the last 19 years, the women have fought and resisted them relentlessly, along with their men, to claim the land their forefathers have tilled for a hundred years, in the hope that some day the ownership would be transferred to them as promised by three successive heads of state.

The year 2018 has brought sorrow and added to the anxieties of the farmers. Their strongest ally, Asma Jahangir, who fought with them in the courts, is no more. Meanwhile, the repression of the present incumbents has intensified. In 2023, the status of the lease of the land will change in favour of the farmers. According to the rules, if an agricultural land is tilled by the occupancy tenant for 25 years, he or she has the right to claim its ownership, Aqila Naz, finance secretary Anjuman-e-Mazarain Punjab (AMP) and president Peasant Women’s Society Pakistan, tells Newsline.

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