Gujarat, India: As the nation enthusiastically prepares to celebrate Diwali, hundreds of Punjabi and Haryanavi families settled in the Kutch region of Gujarat have decided not to celebrate the festival this year. They will rather use the occasion to ponder over their uncertain future.
They have been hoping against hope ever since the Gujarat Government ordered “freezing” of their land accounts in 2010, especially in light of the speeches of BJP PM candidate Narendra Modi reassuring them that they won’t be driven out from their holdings. However, after the state decided to contest the HC order in their favour, they have lost all hope. Modi’s utterances are a subject of scorn in Kutch.
While elders like Sukhwinder Singh of Gadwara village look stoic, his children are vocal and mince no words that they want to get out of their village as soon as possible.
“Unable to bear the hardship over the past three years, my elder son and his wife have gone back to his in-laws. I am hopeful that we will win the case in the high court, but the youngsters are restless. With no land to fall back upon in my ancestral village in Hisar, I will try to scout for land in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh or Rajasthan,” he added. And he is not alone. This is the story of over 5,000 affected Punjabi and Haryanavi farmers settled in 10 tehsils of Kutch district. While the latter came here after 2000, the former have been here since 1965.
Over 40 acres of land of the family of Ramesh Puri of Barwala has been frozen by the state government, leaving him with no option but to scout for greener pastures elsewhere. “We are so stressed that there is no time for us to even think about celebrating a festival,” he says.
At Vanzan village, Gurjit Singh and his cousin Sukhdev Singh are living the Punjabi dream of having a prosperous farm, cattle and in their case even a passion for horses, but the past three years have been taxing for them. “We kept quiet because we hoped the state will honour its commitment and come to our rescue, but once they appealed against the HC verdict the dye was cast,” they said.
“We do not want to be spoilsport for our neighbours by not celebrating Diwali, but when our heart and spirit is unwilling, it will just be an empty gesture,” they added.
Jasbir Singh, pointsman for farmers’ struggle in Bhuj, candidly said their livelihood was at stake and there could be no compromise. “It is a fight and if we run now we will be doing so forever and that is something I do not wish for our next generation,” he added.
As of now, these farmers can occupy farms, but they cannot get an electricity or tubewell connection; they cannot sell their produce in the market; and they cannot even get bank loans. A majority of these farmers have land registered in their name, but the same has not been entered in the revenue records, thus leaving them at the mercy of orders issued with retrospective effect.
Haryanvi families suffering too
Along with Punjabi farmers, Haryanavi families settled in the Kutch region are also suffering after the Gujarat Government ordered ‘freezing’ of their land accounts in 2010
Minority panel takes up issue
- Taking a serious note of the freezing of land of Punjabis and the attack on a family in Loriya village, Ajaib Singh, member of the National Commission for Minorities, reached Bhuj on Monday and took up the case with the local administration.
- He said no state government would be allowed to trample on the rights of minorities and strict action would be taken against those who did so. “I will visit victims of the attack tomorrow. I will also submit a report on the ground reality to the commission,” he added.