CHANDIGARH: Over the last 10 days various towns and cities across Punjab have been rocked by protests led by farmers in support of the Kashmiris who have been living in curfew conditions since the abrogation of Articles 370 - and 35-A since August 5.

Demonstrations have been held in several towns like Malout, Faridkot, Tarn Taran, Bathinda, Patiala, Sangrur, Barnala, Moga, Amristsar, Ludhiana and Nakodar. And saw large scale participation of farm labourers, women, students and youth in general.

Various farmer organizations plan to have a massive show of strength in Mohali on September 15 to support the cause of Kashmiris who remained cut off from rest of the world for more than one month and are battling problems of survival in the face of government action.

The question that comes to mind is what is making Punjab’s farmer identify himself with Kashmiris.

Joginder Singh of Bharatiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan) in Sangrur pointed out, “There is apprehension that the display of arrogance in Kashmir by the government can be repeated in Punjab also. The people understand the fact that the government has failed to address the concern of the farmers and the farm GDP has slid from 2.1 to 0.1. With growing unemployment and the farm crisis, Punjab is all set to witness an increase in public unrest. The people want that the democratic space should remain with them. They know that the Kashmiris have been robbed of their democratic rights and the government action is a big blow to federalism. They feel that what is happening in Kashmir can take place anywhere in India.They think that laws like Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) can be used against them anytime.”

The general sentiment expressed by speakers at the protests is that the abrogation of Article 370 is a betrayal of democracy and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah is suppressing minorities. The speakers assert that the armed forces have turned Kashmir into a cage where the human rights of Kashmiris are being trampled upon. And that the farmer, labourers and students of Punjab see it as their duty to defend the rights of Kashmiris as t”oday it is Kashmir that is being targeted, tomorrow it could be Punjab”.

Kisan Sabha leader Gurchetan Singh was clear, “The action of the central government cannot be seen in isolation. There are apprehensions, particularly as if by brute force the government can trifurcate Kashmir who knows tomorrow it may do the same in Punjab trifurcating the state into Malwa, Majha and Doaba regions and posting puppet chief ministers there. The trifurcation is being seen as a move to weaken states that stand up for federalism and greater autonomy.” He further said the isolation of Kashmir’s political leadership and the manner in which Chandrababu Naidu and his son were put under house arrest add further fuel to such apprehensions.

Around 11 organizations representing farmers, farm labourers and students have formed a Kashmiri Quami Sangharsh Himayat Committee that is intensifying the protests against the central actions in Kashmir.

Kanwalpreet Pannu of Kisan Sangharsh Committee in Tarn Taran pointed out, “The farmer in Punjab sees the land purchasing rights given to non Kashmiris by the abrogation of Article 370 and 35 A as a permission to corporates to grab more and more land. Such federal laws give some kind of confidence to the local population and are often helpful in protecting the interests of groups like farmers and youth in the states.”

He pointed that the farmers, be it of any state, are against allowing such “ land grab”. They also feel that the misery and demands of the farmers across the country are the same. “The government has failed to implement the recommendations of the MS Swaminathan Commission for the last 13 years. It is trying to do away with its responsibilities while sending across false claims on development,” he added.

Lacchman Singh Sewewala who is a top functionary of Punjab Khet Mazdoor Union at Muktsar told this reporter, “Kashmiris have been a suppressed quam for decades now. Their democratic and federal rights have been trampled upon. There human rights have been violated with impunity whether it is the killings that average nine a day or rape and molestation of women as it happened in Kunan Poshpora. No one can tolerate this happening to fellow countrymen.”

He went on to elaborate, “The government has been misleading the masses in the name of vikas or development. If Article 370 was hampering development in Kashmir, why are farmers and youth under stress because of farm distress and unemployment in states like Punjab and Haryana where there has never been a provision like Article 370? They want to facilitate corporate plunder by abrogating provisions like Article 370 and refuse at the farmers committing suicides, the farmers from Tamil Nadu who sat with human skulls in protest in Delhi along with others.”

The farmers are pointing that the government is misusing the monetary resources by diverting them towards purchasing defence equipment and posting more and more military and para military forces in different states all in the name of nationalism.

”At a time of economic slowdown when the government should be pumping in money to make the farm sector stand back on its feet and create employment, it is making purchases like Apache combat helicopter. The people must understand that the soldiers dying in Kashmir and elsewhere are sons of farmers and labourers. They do not come from the families of politicians or other higher ups,” Sewewala said.

Photographs: Protest in Sangrur