Pakistan: Barbarism in the Punjab - the plight of the Okara tenants

This is not a story out of the Middle Ages, nor is it a tale from some remote small forgotten African country. No, it is a story from the heart of Pakistan in the 21st century.

This is not a story out of the Middle Ages, nor is it a tale from some remote small forgotten African country. No, it is a story from the heart of Pakistan in the 21st century. Deep in the heartlands of the Punjab you will find Okara where there is some of the most fertile land in all Pakistan.

In 1900 the British imperial Raj planned to develop a canal system for the agricultural development of the Punjab. The workers were hired and under great hardship they developed one of the world’s best irrigation systems right here in the Punjab.

The British promised the labourers agricultural land as a reward for their work. Some families were settled in Okara and given tenant status. They were promised that within a certain period of time they would get outright ownership rights.

However, in 1913 the land was given to the army for 20 years, but the army never evacuated it and the tenants are still forced to this day to deal with them according to the original agreements.

After the partition the land was permanently occupied by the Pakistani Army. Actually the land is formally the property of the Punjab government. But in its greed to grab more land the Pakistani army recently went further and asked the tenants to evacuate the land, the same land they have harvested for a century and which is not even considered as army property. According to the law even if the lease is expired the tenants cannot be evacuated from their land.

The poor peasants resisted the army demands and started a peaceful protest. This is what started the whole nightmare. Initially the police entered the villages and brutally attacked the poor people. They were harassed, beaten, arrested and tortured. Even women and children were not spared.

The police having failed to suppress the people, the army was called in. Violating every ethical and legal norm the army used draconian measures. All the villages were besieged and a curfew was imposed. Brutal torture was perpetrated against the poor tenants.

All the roads in and out of Okara have been closed and the place has been cut off from the entire world. No one can come in or come out. Machine guns have been placed out side the villages and they are used whenever someone tries to come out.

People have been kidnapped, tortured and killed. No journalist is allowed to enter. So far, more than 18 people have been killed in Okara. More than one hundred thousand people are besieged in this way.

All this was documented by a fact-finding mission comprising of human rights activists who, however, were not allowed free access. The group requested a post-mortem to be carried out on those that had been killed in the clashes, but the army refused this.

These poor peasants are still being subjected to brutal tyranny. To increase the efficiency of their terror methods the army has now even brought in cannons to be used against the villages. The people are thus now struggling for their very basic right to live.

This is a fight between the landless peasants and biggest landowner in Pakistan, the Pakistani army. This is a great burden on the moral conscience of the nation. Why are the sons and daughters of Pakistan not allowed to get the bread they have harvested after so much hard work? The fundamental question being posed is "Whom does the land belong to? Those who harvest it or those who hold the gun?"

We strongly support our brothers and sisters who are fighting for their rights, their heroic struggle for their land.

- Jis kheet se dehqan ko muasir na ho rozi!

- Us kheet ke her kosha-e-gandam KO jala do!

Our brothers and sisters in Okara must realize that this is the struggle between two classes, the haves and have-nots. Only true revolutionary tactics can guarantee long lasting economic freedom and prosperity. We are with you in every step of your struggle.