Protesting peasants don’t make good TV

Published: April 18, 2011

Their grievances are seemingly less worthy of media and government attention.

On April 6, 2009, three tenant farmers were killed in Kulyana Estate of Okara for raising their voice against unequal distribution of farmland and demanding ownership rights to the land they had been tilling for generations.

These three were members of Anjuman Mazareen of Punjab (Association of Punjab Peasants).

A lot has been reported and commented upon about the likes of the Young Doctors Association (YDA) or the Provincial Management Services Association (PMSA). The AMP, like the latter two, has also been protesting in support of certain demands for some time now. However, the similarities between the three end here.

Unlike the handful of brown sahibs of PMSA and the self-styled brainiacs of the YDA, the AMP comprises hundreds of thousands of ordinary farmer men, women and children whose grievances are seemingly less worthy of media and government attention yet dangerous enough for the state to suppress with use of brute force.

Only recently an AMP caravan in Khanewal intending to march towards Lahore was brutally crushed by the police. Section 144 was imposed and more than 500 protesters were arrested under the Anti-Terrorism Act. Such a degree of state violence, if meted out to lawyers, journalists, doctors or bureaucrats, would immediately qualify as breaking news and be given blanket coverage. But it seems the poor farmers have no such connections or friends in high places either in government or the media.

Also, our stereotypes are that doctors and bureaucrats are ‘intelligent’ and ‘hard working’. This allows them to wield authority disproportionately higher than their numbers should otherwise allow.

At another level, the inability of the AMP protests to stir a response can be understood in terms of a disconnect between state and real society. Doctors and bureaucrats occupy key positions in society and hence their protests are bound to be taken seriously by the state.

Yet, if history is of any value, such a status quo cannot continue forever. When the weak and oppressed are pushed to the wall, they are bound to strike back and alter the power balance. The time is running out for the rest of us. At the very least, the media needs to do its job responsibly and report on this matter.


Umair Rasheed

Works at the Lahore desk of The Express Tribune and tweets @umairrasheed1

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