Over a million farmers brutalised in Okara
Spending a lot of effort alleging humans-rights violations in India’s troubled Jammu and Kashmir state does not prevent the Pakistani army from indulging in a brutal repression of farmers in Okara on a much grander, more systematic scale. The objective is purely commercial – control over the Okara military farms. Over a million farmers – slaves of the army in all but name – risk losing whatever claims they have to the land and becoming ‘rent-paying’ tenants of the military. Even children are tortured.
Roadblocks are everywhere, manned by soldiers with automatic weapons as well the lighter-armed police. Four-wheelers with mounted machine-guns prowl menacingly upon the dirt roads next to the irrigation canals, raising huge clouds of dust as they move between villages. For all practical purposes, the nearly one million people of Okara are under military occupation but Pakistan’s political parties have yet to take note. The poor, after all, don’t matter much.
Why are they doing this, I asked one villager from the crowd that was now swarming around me. “They want to put us on contract, pay rent to them, take away our rights to the land, and then throw us out”, he replied, “but this land is ours because our forefathers have tilled it and we have nowhere else to go”. And then, as if the floodgates had broken, villagers came to show us wounds upon their bodies, some now turning septic. Broken limbs, hollow faces, sunken eyes, and marks of beatings were in abundant evidence there too.[Pervez Hoodbhoy]
Okara is just a microcosm of the parasitic nature of the Pakistani army. As for its portion of Kashmir, Pakistan’s own human rights commission reports that its residents live in a general atmosphere of fear and apprehension where Pakistan’s intelligence agencies dominate and control their government.
Related Links: Human Rights Watch report: ‘Soiled Hands – Pakistan Army’s Repression of the Punjab Farmers’ Movement‘, ‘What I saw in Okara‘, an interview with Pervez Hoodbhoy that did’nt make it to print, and an op-ed by Ardeshir Cowasjee that did.