Sandeep Singh: Dalits Fear Representation Doesn't Matter As Protest Met With Punjab Police Violence
For many Dalits, Punjab Chief Minister, Charanjit Singh Channi, is a good example of how power changes a person
October 13, 2021 | 3 min. read | Original Reporting
For many Dalits, Punjab’s new Chief Minister (CM), Charanjit Singh Channi, is a good example of how power changes a person.
Back in 2016, Channi protested outside the Bhawanigarh, Sangrur, police station against a lathi charge targeting the Dalits of Ballad Kalan village. Protestors were demanding their fair share of Panchayati land. He went as far as demanding the release of activists and action against responsible officers.
Some five years later, Channi, as the CM of Punjab, oversaw the lathi charge of Dalits demanding land rights.
Nearly 2000 Dalits clashed with Punjab police on Tuesday near Channi’s residence in Morinda, which falls in Rupnagar district.
Channi was only recently hailed as the state’s first Dalit CM, after Captain Amarinder Singh’s resignation. Many had expected that he would do something for the Dalit community, but yesterday’s incident raises questions.
The demonstrating Dalits are associated with the Zameen Parpati Sangharsh Committee (ZPSC), which is fighting for Dalit land rights. After Channi’s appointment, the organization called on Dalits to march to Morinda.
Dalits from Sangrur, Patiala, Fatehgarh Sahib, and Barnala district set up a stage outside the city near the new railway station and around 3:00 PM started marching towards CM Channi’s residence. A nearly one-kilometer-long convoy of farmers marched to the city, demanding a meeting with the CM.
According to Mukesh Malaud, President of ZPSC, the Punjab government promised to set up a meeting with cabinet minister Aruna Chaudhary instead, which was refused by the organization.
Later, at around 6:00 PM, there was a police lathi charge to which demonstrators responded with stone-pelting. Both protestors and policemen experienced injuries. Many photos of Punjab Police personnel beating up Dalits have gone viral.
As a result of the police brutality, the Punjab CM finally agreed to meet ZPSC on October 21.
Malaud told Baaz that Congress’ appointment of Channi had raised the hopes of the state’s Dalits, but it turns out that the party’s Dalit policy has remained the same. He called Channi’s appointment a political stunt.
Dalits associated with the ZPSC have a few demands.
They are requesting a fair share in Panchayati land, the implementation of the Land Ceilings Act, 5-5 marla land plots to needy families, the waving of loans by microfinance companies, membership in cooperative societies, easy loan options, and the cancellation of FIRs against Dalits during their struggle to get a fair share of land.
Dalits constitute 32 percent of Punjab’s population but they own only 3.5 percent of the state’s land. According to the Punjab Village Common Land Act, a third of Panchayati land is reserved for Dalits. Even with legal provisions, Non-Dalits take land which is actually reserved for Dalits on lease every year.
With the efforts of ZPSC, Dalits have successfully secured Panchayati land in parts of Malwa. In some instances, Dalits have had to clash with other castes to get the land they are legally entitled to take on lease. ZPSC, its members, and Dalits have been booked in more than 30 cases in the last seven years as a result. ZPSC has demanded that those FIRs be withdrawn.
As farmers are protesting in Delhi, Dalits in Punjab mobilized by ZPSC are also demanding the implementation of the Punjab Land Reforms Act, 1972, which provides that a single family cannot own more than 17.5 acres of irrigated land and 32 acres of land without irrigation facilities.
Dalits also want loan debts extended by microfinance companies to be waived and those landless people should be made members of cooperatives society that provide cheaper loans. In Punjab, it is difficult for Dalits to access loans from banks which in turn forces them to access loans through microfinance companies which keep them in a debt trap.
As for the October 21 meeting with the CM, Malaud hopes representation will matter and the long-standing demands of the Dalit community will be met.
Sandeep Singh hails from Machhiwara, Punjab. As an independent journalist, he has worked with many prominent Indian news organizations. Sandeep has been following the farmer’s protest in Punjab since its onset and traveled with them to Delhi. He spends most of his time at the Singhu border protest site. You can follow Sandeep on Twitter @Punyaab
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