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Women’s role in Okara peasants’ movement highlighted

Karachi: Veteran journalist and former editor of leading English daily Salim Asmi has said that law was useless until the society accepts it with an open heart. He made the remark at a 2-day seminar on empowerment of women. The seminar was organized by Inter Press Communications (IPF), a non-government organization here on Wednesday.

“During my 50-year career as a journalist I never encountered a single case of harassment at workplace but I did encounter innocent harassment,” he said.

He said there was a time when one would find few working women in Pakistan but today there is substantial women work force that is competing with their male counterparts and making a niche in society through their dedication and hard work. He said the worst affected section of society were women who work as domestic labour. He said one often witness that maidservants bring their daughters with them because they are old and need a helping hand.

“It’s time that a law is enacted to determine the minimum wages of domestic servants,” Asmi said.

Rubina Saigal, a researcher from Lahore spoke at great length on the role played by women in the glorious struggle of peasants in Okara in Punjab. Shedding light on the peasant movement in Punjab, she said the construction of lower Bari Doab Canal in 1902 brought irrigation to barren land in Okara and farmers were granted land under Punjab Tenancy Act of 1887. The land was leased by British government to army in 1913 for 20 years. The agreement expired in 1933 but was extended for another five years. In 1996 the Board of Revenue stated the tenants had the right to own the land. So was the judgment of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

In 2000, the military wrote a letter to the BoR that land should be handed over to her but the BoR refused, she said. Then a one-sided contract was made to eject the farmers from the land and thus Anjuman-e-Mazareen came into being and started a struggle for the ownership of agricultural land, she added.

She said the struggle of Okara farmers pertained to 68,000 acres that the military wanted to sell to multinational corporations for corporate farming. “The military was perhaps afraid that land distribution structure in Pakistan will change if land was distributed to farmers in Okara,” she said.

She went on say that the military was questioned in Senate regarding its claim that it owned the land but was unable to prove it. She said the military even attempted to buy the land valued at Rs 115 billion through public funds. She said tenants would hardly get 25-30 per cent of their 50 per cent share in produce and worked under very oppressive conditions.

She said women played a very important role in the movement led by Anjuman-e-Mazareen and virtually fought with Rangers through “thappas” (the piece of wood used in cleansing of clothes.) She said as many as 11 farmers laid down their lives during the struggle, including one or two women. The women also ‘gheraoed’ police stations when their family members were arrested.

She said the State always fits security and defence jargon against rights’ movement. Does this mean that everybody who fights for his or her rights is a terrorist, she questioned. She said the Okara farmers’ movement was successful “to a certain extent” because they did not hand over their produce to the military.

“It’s a partial victory though the land has still not been transferred in the name of tenants,” she observed.

Speaking on the occasion Zia Ahmed Awan advocate said women in Karachi were suffering immensely at Export Processing Zone (EPZ) and this included sexual harassment. He said sexual harassment could also be witnessed in the corporate sector. He said the Women Commission has become a “recommending body” and has no teeth.

Dr. Khalida Ghous said there were few women in decision-making in Pakistan. She said there should be women-friendly laws and they should be educated so that they are empowered.

Nafisa Shah spoke about her experiences as a Nazim in Khairpur in Sindh. She said most of the women who visited her office while she was nazim had marriage-related problems while men would narrate land-related problems to her. She said women would not be empowered if they were not paid equal to men. She said Rs 50 billion would be distributed this year under Benazir Income Support Programme and the amount would be distributed through women.

Zarine Aziz, President, First Women Bank said women work very hard, especially in the agriculture sector, but her share was not registered in the economy.

A documentary film Kahani-ek-si was also shown at the seminar.
Source: The News
Date:11/27/2008

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