The Guardian November 28, 2001

Pakistan: Peasants demand ownership of land

Peasants working on military farms across Pakistan are demanding 
ownership rights of the land they have been cultivating for 88 years.

Over 10,000 peasants, more than 1000 of them women, attended a peasants' 
convention held on November 16 at the Okara military farms.

The convention was organised by the Tenants' Organisation of the district 
of Okara. Representatives from peasant organisations from across the 
country took part.

The slogans at the convention reflected the feelings of those present: 
"ownership or death", "those who cultivate the land have the right to 
ownership" and "we will win". 

The British established military farms in the early 1900s. Many workers 
were asked to till the land on tenancy basis and left the cities to do so. 
The farms were to provide dairy and other products for the military. 

Now it is the fourth generation of workers who work the land, but they 
still they do not have the right to ownership. In Okara district alone, 
these farms cover over 17,0000 acres of land.

When the present military regime came to power in 1999, the peasants 
working on the farms were asked to give up their tenancy and become 
contractors. The contracts could be cancelled at any time, leaving the 
peasants without land. The real aim of the exercise was to deprive them of 
their valuable land.

The peasants also found out that the owner of the land is now the Punjab 
government, not the military so they decided to pay their rent to the 
Punjab revenue department instead of to the military farms administration.

Last March the military authorities tried to test the ground by sending the 
police to a village to collect wood. The villages refused to give in and 
asked the police to go away. The police gathered forces from the whole 
district and again came to collect wood from the villagers.

They did not count on meeting resistance from the village women who came 
forward and attacked them with sticks. That was a strong motive for the 
rest of the villagers to take part in the fight. The police fired into the 
air. A young child was wounded by a police bullet. After that the police 
fled the scene.

As a result most of the villagers in the area united in the Tenants 
Organisation, which became one of the strongest organisations in the 
district. It took part in the local elections and all of its candidates 
were elected with massive majority. The military farm administration stood 
but did not win any seats.

The recent Okara convention demonstrated how serious peasants are about 
their just demands, uniting Muslim and Christian peasants on one platform 
with a common demand for ownership rights for those who work on the land.

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