ISLAMABAD: Hameeda Bibi, who is in her late 60s, is among the scores of tenants from the Okara military farms who set up a protest camp outside the National Press Club on Friday.

Hameeda Bibi told Dawn that she came to the federal capital in hopes that her voice would reach the rulers and the Supreme Court of Pakistan. But she regretted that till the evening, not a single politician had visited the camp.

However, PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari called the representatives of the tenants to Zardari House and listened to their grievances.


Say instead of vacating the land they are ready to purchase it on market rate


“I was born in the village 15/4L and now even my grandchildren are earning their bread and butter from the land. But for the last 16 years, we have continuously been receiving threats from the army to vacate the land,” she added.

Mohammad Mukhtar, another resident of 15/4L, said there were 19 villages near Okara in which over 900,000 people lived. The total land is 18,000 acres out of which 4,000 acres are already in the possession of the army. Now the army is trying to also take over the remaining land.

“Most of the families pay Rs25,000 to Rs60,000 per acre annually to the army. A majority of the people have three to six acres of land. We are ready to pay the cost of the land but the army is trying to get the land vacated,” he said.

“Just two days ago, Mujahid Abbas, a schoolteacher, was arrested after he refused to vacate the land. During the last 16 years, 13 people have been killed and 25 arrested by the police and scores of others injured during protest demonstrations,” he said.

Mian Safdar, a resident of 12/4L, said his forefathers cultivated the land for over 100 years. “I have six acres and don’t have any other option but to live there.”

Fazal Hussain, 57, added that he had five acres and had to feed his three sons and two daughters.

“A brigadier visited the area and threatened the tenants. When I raised an objection, a case under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA) was registered against me in the Okara Saddar police station,” he alleged.

The protesters said the market rate of the land was Rs800,000 per acre so instead of forcing the people to vacate the land the government should sell it to them.

Rights activist and leader of Awami Workers Party Farzana Bari said she knew that most of the political leaders would not visit the camp.

“However, we invited the tenants to the capital to show that at least the civil society understands their problem and shows solidarity with them,” she said.

President Anjuman-i-Mazareen Mian Khushi Mohammad added: “In Islamabad, at least the national and international media visited our camp and listened to our problems. I am sure that our issue will be highlighted at the national and international level.”

He said the PPP chairman assured them that he would play his role to address the issue. He said the PPP chief also promised that opposition leader Syed Khurshid Shah would take up the issue on the floor of the National Assembly. Moreover, services of Latif Ahmed Khosa advocate would be provided to the tenants to fight their case.

The Okara military farms were developed during the British rule in the 19th century to protect the subcontinent from any attack from the northwest. People were encouraged to settle there with an offer that the land would be transferred in their names. However, the offer was never materialised.

As the British army owned the land, after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, the land was automatically transferred to the Pakistan Army. The army used to get share from the production but during the tenure of Pervez Musharraf a contract system was introduced and the farmers were directed to pay the rent in cash. Moreover, it was decided that the military can vacate the land anytime.

As a result, the farmers established Anjuman-i-Mazareen to protect their rights. But the military has been asking the tenants to vacate the land.

Meanwhile, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in a statement hailed the struggle of the tenants.

He said he was shocked to learn about the injustices with the tenants.

Spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar said the PPP chairman condemned the registration of terrorism cases against the tenants for refusing to give up their proprietary rights and demanded withdrawal of the cases.

Published in Dawn, April 23rd, 2016

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