The two-day (September 5 ,6) Peasant Convention organized in Multan by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has made a strong plea for land reforms , development of equitable land utilization policies, mitigation of the hardships of landless tillers of the soil, acceptance of the tenants‘ rights that have been settled for long on lands leased to the military, fixation of a fair return to farm labor, effective action to eradicate bonded labor, protection of rights of women working in agriculture sector ,a peasant-friendly policy for distribution of inputs and for marketing of the farm produce.
The convention was attended by representatives of Kisan/Hari committees from the different parts of the country, peasant activist representatives of bonded /liberated workers, and human right activists.
The convention declared that the demand for land reform was justified in the country’s economic interest, the right of the vast rural population to social justice and the basic requirements of a democratic dispensation. Studies by economists had established that the skewed land ownership pattern in the country was hampering economic growth and spread of education, besides increasing the areas of mass poverty. An economically and socially disadvantaged peasantry was also unable to support a democratic order.
It was necessary to ensure, the convention declared, that the proposed land reform is the sincerely and efficiently implemented, small owners and landless cultivators are enabled to acquire at least subsistence holdings, and women cultivators, especially in case of women-headed families, are duly accommodated.
The convention called upon all the provincial governments to evolve both short and long term agricultural policies, including land utilization policies. The practice of giving away land as a reward for dubious and controversial services to the establishment should be discontinued. No allocation of land for commercial exploitation should be allowed. Land must be given only to cultivators and the system of absentee landlords completely eliminated. The practice of allowing urban/industrial projects on fertile lands also needed to be reviewed and unnecessary and haphazard contraction of farm area stopped. Whenever land is acquired for non-agricultural purposes the tenants that are displaced should get a part, may be 25%, of the compensation allowed to the land owner.
The land utilization policy should also address the ecological disasters being caused by wanton destruction of forests.
The convention was of the view that all the provincial tenancy laws needed to be revised with a view to providing firm and clear guarantees for tenants’ rights, closing all gaps that permit exploitation of tenants, and adjudication of landlord –tenant issues by special Hari courts.
As regards landless tenants, the convention demanded allotment of land to the largest number possible, and effective safeguards against ejectment of tenants. The tenants should be helped with credit under new and liberal lending policies. Those who cannot be kept on farms ought to be enabled to develop alternative skills in towns near their homes, and provided with meaningful employment.
The participants of the convention strongly deprecated the government’s failure to recognize and protect the rights of cultivators who have been working on military farms for many generations. They hailed the struggle of peasant organizations in resisting attacks on their rights and called for immediate transfer of ownership to cultivators of military farms in Okara, Khanewal, Sargodha or anywhere else.
The convention expressed concern at the absence of any framework for guaranteeing fair wages for farm labor and urged an expeditious solution to the problem. At the same time it was necessary to take effective steps for the elimination of bonded labor and rehabilitation of liberated workers.
The participants were unanimous in demanding steps to ensure easy availability, at affordable cost, of the essential farm inputs, especially water and seeds. The peasantry suffered a great deal due to an unfavorable system of marketing of farm produce. A fair and equitable marketing system needed to be installed in consultation with representatives of the cultivators.
The convention expressed serious concern at the widespread and multi-dimensional exploitation of women associated with and dependent upon agriculture. In several areas of farming and cattle-breeding, women contributed more than men but were denied due recognition of and reward for their work. The convention called for a broad based movement o secure the rights of women engaged in agriculture.
The convention appreciated the work done for the peasantry’s uplift by the various kisan and Hari committees, peasant and tenant associations, human right activists and alliances and called for closer collaboration among them so as to generate a strong movement for justice to the country’s large agricultural community.
The convention also urged upon the state, the political parties, trade unions of industrial labor and all other elements of civil society to facilitate unionization of the agricultural labor in accordance with the ILO conventions and guarantees inscribed in the constitution of Pakistan and international instruments.
The other demands made at the convention included a call for recognition of the right to work, women’s’ right to equal wages, and all citizens’ right to social security as fundamental rights.
The convention called upon all political parties to give the peasantry’s interests and concerns a prominent place in their manifestos and programmes. At the same time it appealed to the entire peasant community to play their due role in the coming elections and seek assurances from all candidates that they would work for the realization of their rights. It was time the peasants served a notice on all concerned that they were determined to have their say in governance and equitable management of their affairs.
I. A. Rehman, Secretary General HRCP
Rashid Rehman, Convention Co-ordinator.