The Pagri Sambhal Jatta movement
A 1907 ballad of defiance has made a quiet comeback over a century later to inspire protesting Punjab farmers who have dig in their heels against Centre at Delhi’s gates.
- ‘Pagri Sambhal Jatta’, a song by by Banke Dayal, the editor of Jhang Sayal, was introduced at a peasants rally in Lyallpur that year.
- It soon became an anthem that defined the farmers’ agitation against three British laws – the Doab Bari Act, Punjab Land Colonisation Act and the Punjab Land Alienation Act.
- The tales of that unrest led by Bhagat Singh’s uncle, Ajit Singh, continue to inspire the current protesters who refuse to budge in their fight against the Union government.
Threat to ownership rights
- Farmer unions part of the ongoing protests in Delhi claim that farm laws passed by Parliament will ultimately force them to sell their land to corporates.
- It was a similar grouse that fueled the farm protests in 1907. Farmers felt threatened by the Colonisation Act that they said would reduce owners to contract workers on their own land.
- Farmers, especially in and around district Lyallpur (now in west Punjab), who were given forest land by the British to develop were being told that the government will take back the allotted land under the Act.
- As unrest started brewing against the colonial rulers, Bhagat Singh ‘s father, Kishan Singh, and uncle, Ajit Singh, and their revolutionary friend Ghasita Ram had formed Bharat Mata Society with an ultimate aim to spark a revolt against British government.
Epicentre of protests
- While Punjab and Haryana have emerged as the nerve centre of these protests, the epicentre of the 1907 agitation was Lyallpur.
- Ajit Singh wrote, “I chose Lyallpur district as our centre for agitation because of it being a nearly developed area. It had people from almost all parts of the Punjab as also retired military people.
- Retired military people, thought, could be useful in bringing about a revolt in the army.”
Amendment to pacify agitation
- Another interesting parallel is that British had made minor amendment in the laws after seeing the resentment in public.
- The Narendra Modi government too seems willing to consider tweaking the farm laws to put a lid on the ongoing protests.
- In his article, published in the daily ‘Pipal’ in 1931, Bhagat Singh wrote that a public meeting was called in Lyallpur on March 3, 1907.
- According to Bhagat Singh, “Just before this meeting, Lala ji told Ajit Singh that government has made some amendments in colony act.
- In the gathering, while thanking government for this amendment, we should request government to cancel the whole law.
- However, Ajit Singh made it clear to Lala ji that the agenda of meeting was to inspire the public to stop paying agri-taxes.”
- Ajit Singh writes in his biography, “Lala ji was first hesitant in addressing the meeting, but people shouted that they were anxious to listen to Lala ji. Seeing the public enthusiasm, he made one of his finest speeches, full of eloquence and spirit.”
- Ajit Singh had noted that earlier Lala ji was not willing to join the agitation based on the assumption that this was not limited to farm unrest. This, he had noted, was true as the real aim of the movement was to ignite a revolt against the British.
The stark difference
- The farmer agitation this year has remained largely non-violent. The British, however, had to face violence in 1907.
- There were riots in Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, Lahore etc. British personnel were manhandled, mud was flung at them, offices and churches were burnt, telegraph poles and wires cut.
- In Multan Division, railway workers went on strike and the strike was called off only when the acts had been cancelled.
- The Superintendent of Police, Phillips, in Lahore was beaten by rioters. British civil servants sent their families to Bombay and ships were chartered to take them to England if the situation got worse. Some families were transferred to forts.
- (General) Lord Kitchener got terrified since peasantry was becoming rebellious, military and police were unreliable.
- (John) Morely (then secretary of state for India) made a statement in the House of Commons that in all 33 meetings took place in the Punjab, out of which 19 were addressed by Sardar Ajit Singh.
- That increase in land revenue was not the cause of this unrest. It was with a view to finishing British rule in India that it was being used as a political stunt. The result of all this agitation was that all the three bills were cancelled.