Profile| Prisoner Of Conscience Released After 4 Years: Who Is Mehar Sattar?
Okara Peasant Movement leader Mehar Abdul Sattar, who has spent four years of his life in jail for upholding the rights of the farmers, was acquitted by the Lahore High Court on Tuesday.
In 2015-16, he along with many others was booked in over 30 cases, ranging from high treason to terrorism, by Okara police. He was arrested on April 16, 2016 — a day after he had announced to address a large gathering of farmers on Labour Day.
The police had alleged that Sattar led an AMP agitation and the protestors blocked the Lahore-Khanewal rail track and Lahore-Multan motorway near 34/14-L, Okara. During the protest, a clash took place between police personnel and farm tenants, resulting in injuries to cops. Similarly, Sattar was also booked for spreading hate material against the Pakistan Army.
Subsequently, he and another tenant of military farms Abdul Ghafoor were jailed for 10 years by an anti-terrorism court in Sahiwal for firing on police during the protest.
The Anjuman-e-Mazareen Punjab came into being when a ‘one-side contract was drawn up by the army to eject the farmers living on land claimed by the military’.
According to researcher Rubina Saigal, “The construction of lower Bari Doab Canal in 1902 brought irrigation to barren land in Okara and farmers were granted land under Punjab Tenancy Act of 1887. The land was leased by the British government to the army in 1913 for 20 years. The agreement expired in 1933 but was extended for another five years. In 1996 the Board of Revenue stated the tenants had the right to own the land.”
The movement to resist the occupation of land has spread across dozens of villages and it is being led by Sattar and others with equal participation of women peasants. The movement is demanding ownership rights for peasants who have been tilling the once-barren land of the Okara military farms before the partition of India. Saigal said the military wants to sell these lands to multinational companies and the efforts to resist this has met with highhandedness.
According to left activist Farooq Tariq, “Thirteen tenants at the farms have lost their lives during this mass movement by small farmers for ownership of land they have been cultivating for over 100 years. Around 1,900 tenants have been jailed over the period, including over 200 peasant women.”