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1 000 000 farmers in peaceful uprising in Pakistan in response to a disposessin with global resonances.
(A speaker from this movement will be speaking at the ISF this Saturday, oct 18, for timetable, see comment in related article http://www.indymedia.ie/newswire.php?story_id=61697&PHPSESSID=37cec717a837e080b4d3361413830a8a)
(A version of this article is to appear in an upcoming Palistine Solidarity newsletter.)
Asad Farooq, Lok Sath (People’s Tribunal), Pakistan
Ian McDonald, Irish Social Forum Outreach Working Group.
"The struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against
When the first intifada began to grow in Palestine in 1935, it began amongst the peasants.
Nearly seventy years later, central Pakistan is the scene of a rural intifada that ruptures the history of the nation, unparalleled in size and scope. Over the past three years, quite possibly the largest single peasant movement in the world, with over a million tenant farmers, has shouted and lived the inimitable slogan ‘Ownership or Death’. In response to state attempts at eviction and dispossession from lands that they have occupied for a hundred years, the tenants of Anjuman Mazarain Punjab (literally “Tennant’s Association of the Punjab”) have resisted and reclaimed their history. The state meets this resistance with greater and greater coercion – siege, arrest, abduction, torture and murder – all under the auspices of ‘anti-terrorist’ legislation. And the world remains silent, anti-terrorism being the new language of freedom.
In the face of disposession more than a century before, tennant farmers in Ireland formed their own anjuman mazarain – the Land League - to challenge the excesses of landlords and the colonial regime.
In all processes of dispossession, memory is erased. The history of Ireland is replete with attempts by the coloniser to destroy the culture and language of the land, by simple means - cartographers translating away Irish place names - and with more overt exercises of power.
The history of Palestine is similarly shadowed by ongoing attempts to destroy any reminiscences of an Arab presence – street names are changed, monuments re-inscribed, the very land remade in the image of power.
And so it is today in Pakistan as a hundred years of living, working, and dying on the land is negated with the forced signing of “modern” contracts which threaten the very existence of the rural communiites of the Anjuman Muzarain. Or today in Ireland, where histories of hundreds of years of family farming – on farms won through the struggles of the Land Leauge - are lost to “market forces” while the lions’s share of EU subsities are lavished on the Queen of England, her fellow large scale land landowners, and industrial agri-business.
On Sept 17-19th, the Irish Social Forum will bring together groups from acoss Ireland, and activists from across the world, including a speaker from Pakistan who will relate the struggles of the Anjuman Muzai, alongside speakers relating the struggles of Irish farmers, trade unionists, students, bin-tax campaigners, communitiy activists and more.
The struggles of farmers in Pakistan are not a simple a land grab by a local elite. Nor are they irrelevant to the struggles of people in Ireland. Eviction of farmers in Pakistan is part of an agenda of privatisation and commodification as para-statal companies and institutions who control the land attempt to “realise their assets” ahead of planned privatisation. From leaked documents of the European Commision, we see our own government’s apparent compliticy in this disposession as the EU explicitly demands the right for corporations to go in to Pakistan and purchase land.
“Its really a very convenient alliance in many ways”, says Aasim Akhtar, a Pakistani activist involved with the Anjuman Muzaiain, “between lets say undemocratic instititions like the military and foreign interests. And the Pakistani people as such get the short end of the stick”
These demands come in the GATS negotiations – an agreement under the WTO which for Ireland represents a drives towards commodification and privatisation of everything from waste management and transport to health and education.
As the Land Leauge has inspired peaseant movements across the world for more that a century, and as the struggle of the Palestinian people continues to inspire and to be adopted by an every growing global justice movement, perhaps through the social forum, the struggles of the Anjuman Mazarai and other grass roots social movements may inspire communities in Ireland as they demand another world, beyond an agenda of commodification and privatisation that will make us all tennants of a global elite.
“If you really want to make the whole notion of the World Social Forum and then the regional Forums and so on effective, and you want to make them genuine political alternatives”, says Aasim, “the movements are essential, the movements are critical. The movements are the only organic, really dynamic response that we have and the only real representative response of what people's vision of the world is and how we can create an alternative and shake up the politics of the world."
In response to power we take up Kundera’s call. The galvanising of peoples in the social forums across the world, are a space for this response. Addressing a group of Irish tenant farmers in 1879 Charles Stewart Parnell may well have been talking to these struggles and the forum:
"You must not allow yourselves to be dispossessed as your fathers were. You
must help yourselves, and the public opinion of the world will stand by, and
support you in your struggle to defend your homesteads."
And here lies the call of the Forum, to stand together, inspired and supported by our rememberings.