Published On: Fri, Jan 30th, 2015

Hounded, Sikh farmers fleeing Gujarat

CHANDIGARH (Jan 30th) SNS : Targeted by land mafia, attacked by goons and booked by cops, Sikh farmers who had made the inhospitable terrain in Bhuj area of Gujarat cultivable, are now forced to flee the land they had made their home.

The recent attack on farmers on January 25 has only reinforced their fears and they have no plans to return anytime soon. Farmer Jagjit Singh was seriously injured in an attack allegedly by a group of local farmers in Loria village of Bhuj district. This was the second attack on Sikhs in Gujarat within a month. Some Sikh farmers have alleged that local agriculturists in connivance with politicians want to drive them out of Gujarat. This attack triggered the exit of a dozen Sikh farmers.

Many have returned to their original hometowns in Punjab and Ganganagar after giving their land on contract farming. Having sold their land, most are virtually living hand to mouth now.

Eighty-four-year-old Tej Ram Sharma said he left Bhuj area and came to Moga about a month ago. “There was fear that an untoward incident could happen any moment and we deputed someone to take care of our 40 acre land and came back to Punjab. I get some pension and that is the only source of income. Prime Minister Narendra Modi should step in,” he said with a choked voice.

In the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls, Modi had assured at a rally in Ludhiana in February 2014 that no Sikh farmer in Gujarat would ever be evicted. “Sikh farmers have as much the right to live there as Narendra Modi,” he had said. But nearly one year down the line, fear haunts the Sikh settlers.

Lachhman Singh Brar, who came to Faridkot three months ago, said that apart from the threat of local mafia, even farming as a vocation was becoming financially unviable as they are being deprived of facilities like farmer credit scheme.

“Even though the local population has cordial relations with the Punjabi farmers who migrated there about five decades ago and actually helped locals with new farming techniques, the bureaucracy and politicians have been indifferent,” he said.

Sardul Singh has returned to Ganganagar, leaving behind 20 acres near Kothara. “There was threat to our lives and we thought it better to give the land on contract and leave. The recent attack on Punjabi farmers in which both parties have been booked by the police goes to show the state of affairs,” he alleged.

“The farmers’ fear is growing as they are being deprived of their right to own the land despite having won the case in High Court,” said another farmer who has returned to his village on Punjab-Haryana border.

For several years, Sikhs were facing the threat of being uprooted under a law enacted by the Gujarat government that purportedly bars non-Gujaratis from buying land in the state. The farmers won the case in the Gujarat high court but the state government challenged the HC order in the SC.

Surinder Singh Bhullar, a farmer settled near Bhuj, said many Punjabi farmers had moved out after selling their land at throwaway prices. “Over the past four years, we have approached every government agency but to no avail. The freeze on our land has not been removed even after the high court ruled in our favour. Punjabi farmers are spread apart and get together only once a year. There are some who had sold off everything to buy land in Gujarat and have nowhere to go,” he said.

Himmat Singh Shergill, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader who represented the farmer in court, said it was a sorry state of affairs and the Sikh farmers had nobody to turn to. The local land mafia wants them to abandon their land and leave the state, he alleged.

Farmers undivided Punjab and Rajasthan had gone to Kutch district in 1965 at the exhortation of then prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri.