With 31.9% Dalits, Punjab has the highest proportion of SCs to its total population. However, their representation in landholdings in the state is far from proportional.
To agitate against this inequality, a mass movement for land rights called the Zameen Prapti Sangharsh Committee (ZPSC) is gaining momentum across various villages in Punjab.
According to The Punjab Village Common Lands Regulation Act 1961, one-third of the common village land managed by the panchayats are reserved for Dalits.
Most of this land, however, has been occupied by upper-caste landowners who allegedly field dummy Dalit candidates in yearly auctions and bid at a higher price than most Dalit farmers can afford. ZPSC is trying to ensure fair bidding through constant vigilance and assertive protest demonstrations.
Starting from the Malwa region, it has now spread to other parts of the state as well. The promise of a dignified livelihood is kindling hope in the hearts of many people from the oppressed scheduled castes who don’t own any land.
This video report by Akhil Kumar from The Wire explores how land ownership is intricately linked to identity and how the ZPSC is mobilising the Dalit community to assert themselves and reclaim the village common land.