In Pakistan, a farmer died following police repression in the Thokar Niaz Beg locality of Punjab State’s capital, Lahore, on November 4, Wednesday. The police were attempting to disperse a sit-in protest being staged by hundreds of farmers demanding fair prices for their produce. The police used water cannons and batons to disperse the protesters, injuring several. Dozens of injured protesters had to be rushed to the hospital, where one of them, Malik Ashfaq Langarial from Vehari, succumbed to his injuries. At least 200 demonstrators were also detained by the police.
The farmers’ protest led by Chowdhry Anwar of the Pakistan Kissan Ittehad was to demand fair prices for their wheat and sugarcane produce, at rates of PKR 300 (USD 1.89) and PKR 2,000 (USD 12.57), per 40 kilograms, respectively. The Punjab government led by Usman Buzdan is offering a rate of PKR 1,600 (USD 10.05) per 40 kilograms of sugarcane, but farmers claim that this figure is very low compared to rates offered by the governments in other provinces.
On November 5, general secretary of the Kisan Board Pakistan, Chowdhary Showkat, stated that if their demands were not addressed, farmers from Punjab’s Jhang, Behawalnaga, Vehari and Dera Ghazi Khan districts would be left with no option but to march towards Islamabad to press for their demands on November 10.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, pointing out that labor rights in the country are in a crisis, demanded that “the government pay heed to protesting workers and farmers across Punjab.”
The repeated use of force against the vulnerable farmers community in Punjab has been widely criticized. Four years ago, Pakistani authorities invoked draconian laws and excessive force to prevent farmers in Punjab from protesting for their land rights. The then secretary general of prominent farmer group Anjuman-e-Mazareen Punjab, Mehr Abdul Sattar, was arrested under criminal charges after he along with four other farmer leaders tried to organize a meeting in Okara on the eve of the International Day of Peasants and Farmers Struggle. Dozens of farmers were also arrested in the subsequent police action under various anti-terrorism and public order provisions in 2016.
In 2014, two tenant farmers, Hasan Ahmad and Noor Mohammad Kamboh, were fired upon by security forces when farmers were protesting against a hike in the prices of their lease rent agreement. The week-long protests were met with a brutal crackdown by the state authorities.
Regarding the ongoing protests, Punjab minister for law and social welfare, Raja Basharat, after meeting the members of the Kisan Board Pakistan, assured on Thursday that the farmers’ demands would be approved in the coming days “positively”. However, experts believe that finding a quick solution to the farmers’ problems is going to be difficult. “Even a sincere desire to resolve the issue can at best provide only the start of a process that may be long and taxing,” The Dawn argued on November 6.