Pehowa, Haryana: Evicted from their lands, hounded by the administration, facing hostility from the village panchayat and completely dependent on the local gurdwara for food, 150 Sikh families living near Pehowa in Haryana’s Kurukshetra district are struggling to survive. They were evicted from the lands they cultivated for six decades after a protracted legal battle.
The families of Kupia Plat in Karah Sahib village were allotted land on lease for 20 years in 1952 under the ‘Grow More Food’ programme by the then Punjab Chief Minister Pratap Singh Kairon. With hard work and labour, they converted the thick forests and marshy lands into fertile cultivable lands.
The 20-year land lease expired in 1972 and the village panchayat claimed ownership on the land, forcing the affected Sikhs to approach the court. After protracted litigation, the court gave its verdict in favour of the village panchayat and the Sikh families were evicted from the land by the administration.
The Sikhs are up in arms as the panchayat further leased some acres of retrieved land through open bidding in which they did not participate. The families said the land is lying barren as the new allottees are not cultivating the land fearing retaliation, while the evicted Sikhs have stopped cultivation as the administration is harvesting their crop and giving it to the panchayat.
The Haryana Government issued two notifications in 2008 and 2010 for restoration of land, but with a rider: The “land will be given with the consent of the Panchayat”, but the exercise become redundant as the panchayat was allegedly hostile towards these families.
The Sikh representatives want that their land and pension be restored, they be covered under the BPL category and be given benefits of the Food Security Ordinance. Citing examples of how the police and administration were treating them as soldiers of a vanquished army, the Sikhs said one of them, Gurmeet Singh, was jailed for not paying the fine.
Bhola Singh said that he along with Nirmal Singh and Mohan Singh were jailed for four to six months on the charge of theft of 9-kg Toria sown by them on the disputed land. Some others have been in jail for four to six months, even for offences that are bailable.
Taking a dig at Haryana Chief Minister BS Hooda, who had expressed concern over the eviction of Sikhs from Gujarat, National Commission for Minorities ex-chairman and National Human Rights Commission member Tarlochan Singh, who arrived here to espouse the cause of the affected people, said: “Hooda is worried about the Sikhs in Gujarat (who after 50 years of farming have been ousted), but not bothered about Sikh farmers being rendered landless and homeless in his own state. How can a sensitive Chief Minister sleep when his people are in distress?”
“The government boasts of major strides in medical facilities, electricity and education but is unmoved about the death of half a dozen ailing people due to lack of timely medical aid. Children from these affected families have dropped out of school, the village gets electricity for barely two hours a day, there is no employment, and several families are starving and are finding it difficult to get their daughters married…”
Addressing a rally by the uprooted Sikhs, Tarlochan Singh assured that matters related to human rights violations by the police would be taken up with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and Minorities Commission and the Prime Minister’s intervention would be sought.
Senior Akali leader Prem Singh Chandumajra said the SGPC would arrange for legal services so that the villagers could plead their case and a free kitchen would be run till they were settled and rehabilitated. An SGPC deputation would also meet the Governor.
Maintaining that they have no land, no employment and nowhere to go, the agitating Sikhs said they would intensify their agitation and start an indefinite strike from September 9 if the matter was not resolved to their satisfaction.
Source: The Tribune