Land rights rally

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Oct 4, 2013.

Islamabad – After the arrest of scores of their peers, collective voice of landless peasants and residents of katchi abadis rang across the federal capital on Thursday.

The participants of the “Haq-e-Malkiat” or land rights rally, organised by Awami Workers Party (AWP), demanded abolition of feudalism, restoration of land reform legislation and ownership rights for slum-dwellers.

The marchers comprising of peasants, residents of Islamabad’s katchi abadis, students, teachers, trade unionists and AWP workers took off from Aabpara Chowk at around 4pm amid anti-establishment slogans with the party’s red-and-gold flags waving all around. They came to a halt only after reaching Islamabad’s go-to protest stop, the D Chowk, where they sat on the road to listen to the fiery speakers.

AWP leaders urged the workers and peasants to engage in a political struggle to free the working class from the oppression of feudal lords and industrialists.

Referring to a petition in the Supreme Court that challenges a 1989 decision by the court’s Shariah Appellate bench which declared land reforms in Pakistan illegal and un-Islamic, AWP President and veteran constitutional expert, Abid Hasan Manto, said there is only so much the apex court could do.

“Unless workers, peasants, labourers and residents of katchi abadis do not commit to a collective struggle for their rights, the oppressive regime against them will not end,” the renowned lawyer said, adding “We have to break this system of injustice against the masses and the beginning of new political process is the only viable option we have.”

Manto said the feudal lords in rural Pakistan are not only in total control of land but also the lives of the poor.

“Every person who earns their living through hard work should join the movement,” he said.

According to the Chairman of AWP, Fanoos Gujjar, around 40 million of Pakistan’s urban population lives in katchi abadis where they are deprived of basic facilities and demanded the government provide housing to the urban poor. “The lands held by the army, feudal landlords, industrialists and corporations should be taken from them and distributed among the landless peasants,” he said.

AWP Punjab secretary-general Asim Sajjad Akhtar voiced a similar sentiment saying Pakistan’s mainstream parties exploit the poor for political gains but never deliver on their promises once in power. He emphasised that instead of corrupt politicians, the country’s fate must be steered by the people.

“Until we, the ordinary people, reach the corridors of power, our problems won’t go away. The life of the poor will not be respected, their struggle to survive will get tougher and resultantly, society will suffer from severe discrimination,” he said.

AWP central secretary-general, Farooq Tariq, demanded the government to stop labelling slum-dwellers as terror suspects and put an end to the operation against them.

“To the government, I would say the terrorists are sitting in your lap. They are the people with whom you are thinking of negotiating,” Tariq said.

He said if the government did not stop the practice, the AWP would launch a nationwide movement against it. Tariq also announced that the next ‘Land rights’ rally would be held in Lahore on October 23.

Recently subjected to an extensive police search operation where over 100 people were arrested on suspicion of criminal and militant activities, the residents of the I-11 slums became the focus of the rally supported by the All Pakistan Alliance for Katchi Abadis.

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