Hundreds of tenants of the Okara military farms on Tuesday converged on Lahore to protest against what they said “state oppression”.
Their camp outside the Lahore Press Club was an animated place. “We are peace-loving people struggling for land proprietary rights for the last 17 years.
The state, however, is determined to prove us terrorists,” was the crux of the message the protesters said they wanted to convey to both political and military leadership, and the man in the street. For the last many weeks, many people have disappeared,” said Badarun Nisa, a leader of the association. “We have even moved court but to no avail. Our kids are not allowed to go to schools because the military and police have placed pickets around our villages. Women with broken arms and limbs cannot be taken to hospitals because we run the risk of being nabbed and jailed. Life has turned hellish on military farms which is reminiscent of early 2000s when the Rangers ruled the area,” she decried. The tenant said they were waging struggle for the just cause and would not back off.
“The choice is with the state if it wants to treat its peaceful and peace-loving citizens as terrorist, let it do so. These lands, which we have been tilling for generations, are a source of livelihood for us which the state is now determined to turn into a cause of death,” she lamented. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif came to our area seeking votes and he promised us land rights. Where is he now when his brother has unleashed state power on us,” bemoaned Baba Khushi Muhammad, an octogenarian who heads the Punjab chapter of the Anjuman-i-Mazareen. We had to sneak through a curfew-like situation around our villages to reach Lahore. Is this how a political government should treat people struggling for their right. If they can come to us for votes, why they cannot visit the area and people for negotiations. Why a political government has to speak through the barrel of gun. Can any decent society book women struggling for land rights under anti-terror law.
Why are women and kids having their limbs broken in the area,” he said. Another protester, Liaquat Ali, said just when Zarab-i-Ahan operation against the Chotoo gang of Rajanpur was going on, the Okara police started projecting tenants’ villages as another “no-go area”. The image was built with a purpose and soon army movement followed, generating worst fears among the tenants. The police later arrested their leaders Nadeem Ashraf, Saleem Ghakkar, Hafiz Jabbar, Shabbir Sajid and Mehr Abdul Sattar. We have lost record of arrests and FIRs, all under 7ATA, by now. No one can really count the arrests and disappearances,” he claimed. Mehr Sattar, who is now jailed, has been elected nazim thrice, twice contested for the Punjab Assembly and once for the National Assembly. Is it fair treatment to him,” he asked.