Protests in Punjab Village After Assault on Dalit Woman Agri Labourer by Landowner

The incident takes place in the foreground of villages in Punjab witnessing tussles between landowners and farm labourers, most of whom are Dalits, over the underpayment of wages for paddy transplantation.

New Delhi: The issue of a Dalit woman farm labourer being slapped by a landowner in Punjab’s Mansa district on June 15 has led to widespread outrage, a report by Raakhi Jagga

After police booked the landowner who allegedly slapped the labourer, demonstrations were held outside Bhikhi Police Station on Saturday, June 19, with protesters demanding an FIR (first information report) against Matti village sarpanch, Sukhwinder Kaur, under whose jurisdiction the incident took place.

According to Indian Express, Bhagwant Samao, president of Mazdoor Mukti Morcha, said that the incident took place during a meeting held between landlords and farm labourers at the residence of the Matti village sarpanch. “She [the sarpanch] is equally responsible for physical assault against the labourer. Hence, she needs to be booked as well,” Samao has demanded.

Meanwhile, protesters called on DSP (deputy superintendent of police) Jasjot Singh to press for their demands, and the police officer has reportedly promised them that action would be initiated against the sarpanch after an investigation into the matter.

Also read: The Farm Law Protests Could Whitewash the Blatant Inequality of Rural Punjab

The meeting in question on June 15 had been called between landowners and farm labourers – who mostly constitute Dalits – at the Matti village sarpanch’s residence after labourers stopped paddy transplantation work following village panchayat’s decision to pay wages less than what had been paid last year. Although labourers were promised Rs 3,500 per acre initially for paddy retransplantation, it was slashed to around Rs 2,500 to Rs 2,600 per acre by the village panchayat.

At the meeting, Gora Singh, a landowner, allegedly slapped a woman Dalit farm labourer.

The incident soon caught the attention of the National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) and its chairman, Vijay Sampla, has issued notices to deputy commissioner Mansa, SSP Mansa, chief secretary of Punjab government and DGP of Punjab Police. The notices ordered authorities concerned to submit within seven days, the facts and information on action taken on the allegations/matter.

Sampla warned of further action if the notices are not responded to within the stipulated timeframe.

“She [the sarpanch] there allegedly made the Dalit mazdoors sit on the ground whereas the landlords were offered chairs. The discussion snowballed with a landowner later slapping a female Dalit farm labourer,” Indian Express quoted Sampla as saying.

The issue of rate fixation for paddy transplantation has cropped up in many villages of Punjab, which are witnessing easy availability of migrant labourers. Many village panchayats have been offering less per acre for paddy transplantation, leading to a dispute between the labourers and their landowners. Protests have already taken place in villages of Ludhiana and Sangrur as well, the Indian Express reported.