From Bhindi Aulakh to Biroke Khurd – A trail of blood follows the peasant struggles

October 15, 2010

by Narinder Kumar Jeet

October 15, 2010

It was in Bhindi Aulakh, a small village in Amritsar District, on Indo-Pakistan Border, that Sh. Sadhu Singh Takhtupura, State Organizing Secretary of the Bharti Kisan Union Ekta (Ugrahan), was brutally attacked and killed on 16.1.2010, under a deep rooted conspiracy hatched by Veer Singh Lopoke, an Ex-MLA and a powerful Akali leader and his henchmen. Sadhu Singh Takhtupura was murdered because he was mobilizing the abadkar  peasants against illegal and forcible land-grabbing by a gang of powerful Akali leaders, police officials, contractors and anti-social elements. Under his leadership, the farmers rose in revolt against custodial deaths, illegal detentions and torture by the police, through which the above said gang used to terrorize the poor peasants. In adjoining Gurdaspur district, the goons employed by the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee, controlled by the ruling Badal Akali Dal, had killed two tenant farmers and injured several others, when they were protesting against their illegal and forcible eviction from a Gurdwara land, which they have ben tilling for the last many years as tenants.

Now in another gruesome assault on peasant’s movement against the expropriation of their lands by the money-lenders, the arhtiyas (Commission Agents) and their hired goons, gunned down another peasant leader- Pirthipal Singh Alisher, Block President of BKU (Dakonda) and injured several others at village Biroke Khurd near Budhlada in broad daylight on 11.10.2010, when they were protesting against the auction of the land of an indebted peasant. This bloody incident occurred in the presence of revenue and police officials.

As per initial reports, on 11.10.2010, the revenue officials went to auction the land of an indebted peasant, Bhola Singh to recover a loan outstanding against him. To protest against this, the peasants under the banner of BKU (Dakonda) held a peaceful Dharna at the auction venue and raised slogans. The peasant organizations have been successfully resisting such expropriation of peasant’s lands since almost a decade. In view of the protest by the BKU, none came forward to bid for the land and the auction failed. The revenue officials went back. Most of the peasants gathered on the spot also went away and only a few activists of the BKU remained there, to discuss the further course of action. In a pre-planned move, the revenue officials accompanied by arhtiyas, their hired armed goons, and a local Congress leader, came back and started the auction again. When the BKU activists protested, they attacked them firstly with brick bats etc., and thereafter fired upon them indiscriminately, killing Pritpal Singh Alisher on the spot and injuring several others.

Recently the Director General of Punjab Police has dubbed 17 organizations of peasants and farm laborers, including BKU Dakonda, as “Naxalite Organizations”. The police remaining silent spectator in this gory incident and conniving with the arhtiyas to perpetuate these heinous crimes indicates a new and dangerous strategy of the Punjab Govt to contain farmers’ organizations using private armed gangs of political and financial bigwigs.

The arhtiyas in Punjab are a powerful exploitative class. They are integral, but useless part of the farm produce marketing system. As Devender Sharma notes in an article on his blog ‘Ground Reality’, in the past decade about 20,000 arhtiyas have been paid a commission of Rs. 6400 Crores for doing nothing. In 2009-10 they got Rs. 783 Crores and in 2010-11, they expect to get more than Rs. 800 Crores. The FCI, CCI, other procurement agencies and traders purchase wheat, paddy, cotton etc from the farmers through the arhtiyas, paying them 2.5 percent commission. The payment to the farmers is made through arhtiyas, whose main activity is infact money lending. In view of the seasonal nature of farmer’s income, they lend to them on exorbitant rate of interest, defraud them by manipulating account books, forging promotes and Agreements to Sell. Most of the arhtiyas get thumb impressions/signatures of the farmers joining their commission agencies on blank and undated promotes and stamp papers. Afterwards these documents are used to fabricate false promotes and Agreements to Sell, to expropriate the farmers’ lands, by obtaining decrees from the courts. The lands are got attached and auctioned under court orders obtained on the basis of forged and fabricated documents. According to BKU leaders, in the past decade, they have forced the authorities to cancel auction of indebted farmers’ land in thousands of cases in Bathinda and Mansa Districts.

Plunder by Arhtiyas (Commission Agents)

A team of economists led by Dr Sukh Pal Singh of the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) has observed in a recent study that, “The main source of income of the commission agents is not the commission charged on the sale/purchase of crops but the interest taken on the credit advanced to the farmers. An average commission agent advances a loan of Rs 65.74 lakhs to farmers. Out of a total debt of Rs 35,000-crores on Punjab farmers during 2008-09, it is estimated that Rs 13,300-crore (38 per cent) is advanced by the non-institutional credit agencies in which commission agent is the major source of finance.

“As per law, a person involved in money lending business must register himself as a money-lender. The Punjab Registration of Moneylenders Act 1938 states that the suits for the recovery of loan could be filed by registered moneylenders with a valid licence. This law laid an obligation on the moneylender to regularly maintain an account for each debtor separately, of all transactions relating to any loan advanced to that debtor. The government prescribed the manner in which accounts had to be kept.

“Moreover, creditor had to furnish each debtor every six months, with a legible statement of accounts signed by the creditor or his agent of any balance or amount that may be outstanding on 30th June or 31st December. But practically, at all levels, there is a violation of this Act. As during our field survey we experienced that among the respondent commission agents not even a single commission agent was registered for the business of money lending.”

The study recommended doing away with the arhtiyas system. Bowing to the pressure of farmers’ organizations, the FCI decided this year to make payment directly to the farmers for the paddy to be purchased this year. As Devender Sharma observes, “The arhtiyas were quick to react threatening boycott of the procurement process that was slated to begin in a few days. They then lobbied with the Punjab Govt and reportedly accompanied Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal to New Delhi. After a couple of days of hectic parleys, the FCI was forced to withdraw the order. …..In other words, Punjab arhtiyas get an open license to loot the hapless farmers for another year.”

Besides the issue of farm loans, the farmers’ organizations have some other contentious issues with the arhtiyas. The arhtiyas control the fertilizer, pesticides and seeds market also. Taking advantage of the farmers’ illiteracy and financial dependence, they sell spurious fertilizers, pesticides and deeds to make big money. Resultantly the farmer is ruined. At many places, the arhtiyas under-weigh the farm produces to dupe the farmers. BKU has launched numerous struggles against such frauds and duping, often resulting in frayed tempers and clashes. The main political parties – the Akalis, BJP, and Congress etc mostly support the arhtiyas, being their important source of election funds. They generally plead that the arhtiyas and the farmers to have a deep and inseparable relationship like the Siamese twins. But the experience has shown that arhtiyas as a class are blood-suckers of the farmers. Killing of Pritpal Singh Alisher amply demonstrates it. After the murder of Sadhu Singh Takhtupura, Lok Morcha Punjab has brought out a leaflet calling upon the farmers and their organization to give a serious consideration to the question of security of the movement and its activists. As the farmers’ movement advances, it is sure to face the ire of those, whose main business is their exploitation. The security of the farmers’ movement lies in mobilization of agri-labourers, employees, democratic minded persons, the rural poor and other struggling sections of the people, who are bearing the brunt of anti-people and anti-national, neo-liberal policies of the Govt. It is heartening that the farmers’ organizations have taken very effective steps in this direction. They have lost no time and opportunity in coming to the support of struggling employees, unemployed youth, students etc. All the 17 organizations of farmers and agri-laborers have decided to fight jointly against the challenge thrown by the money-lenders, their goons and political masters at Biroke Khurd. The struggle to save the lands and houses of indebted farmers, agricultural laborers from being expropriated by money-lenders, has entered a crucial phase. The money-lenders are now letting loose their hired goondas to silence the farmers organizations, with full backing of the rulers. But they are not going to succeed. The farmers and agricultural laborers will definitely defeat their evil designs and save their lands and homes.