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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CPEC and Labour

Published in Dawn on December 31 2017

WORK on the high-profile China-Pakistan Economic Corridor appears to be in full swing since implementation began in October 2015. While a lot has been disseminated on the quantum of investments, loans and repayments, and potential contribution to the country’s GDP, there is lack of information on a key player — labour: the workforce that is building, and will be building and running the projects under CPEC.

Human labour is mentioned but mostly as ‘employment generation’ or ‘creation of jobs’, and hence pushed out of sight in the CPEC narrative. Even the muted and cautious debate on CPEC as a manifestation of Chinese economic imperialism focuses on socio-cultural impacts and remains silent on labour. Questions raised by several scribes in the media have yet to be addressed by CPEC officials.

According to various estimates, CPEC projects would generate between 400,000 to 700,000 jobs during 2015-2030. Apart from numbers and general assumptions, there is hardly anything on labour in the discourse on CPEC. One can view the categories and number of jobs (mostly professional, technical, administrative, skilled) in advertisements on a local website, and also learn about efforts towards skilling of the labour force by the Technical Education and Vocational Training Authority, Punjab.

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Workers’ Ordeal

Published in Dawn on August 22, 2017

Surrealism runs through the streets…
— Gabriel Garcia Marquez

GARCIA Marquez’s description of the reality of Latin America fits snugly into scenarios here. Or so it seems. How else would you convey the reality of several worldviews that are bizarre but that actually exist? What strange stories are hidden in the harsh realm of workers and the multilayered reality of, say, a public-sector enterprise that shut down its operations in June 2015 and still has on its payroll 12,000 employees?

When I rang up Mirza sahib, an employee at the Pakistan Steel Mills since the 1980s, and asked if we could meet, he said, “I am stationed in Dalbandin”. It was eerie to hear the melodious name of that faraway town in Balochistan. How come he ended up there? A punishment for activism, a case of enforced transfer, I am told. The PSM has a small iron ore project, now closed, in Chagai district. “The machines are lying on a hill and there is nothing to do.”

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