By Lubna Marium, Womens Feature Service
Akeela Naz is this year’s recipient of the Meeto Memorial Award instituted by Delhi based feminist leader Kamla Bhasin. The award represents a new generation of social activists from the South Asian region.
Akeela was born into a family of landless cultivators. She showed an early eagerness to join in the struggles of landless farmers in defiance of the powerful local elites.
Akeela’s family lived in dismal poverty. Her parents toiled day and night in the farm. Her parents were among the millions of poor farmers who were forced to pay heavy revenue in cash and or in kind to companies and military agencies .
Akeela had witnessed endless exploitation at the hands of corrupt and abusive officers and rising revenue payments. Farmers of the region launched an uprising called the Anjuman Muzareen Punjab or the Tenants Association Punjab. The movement demanded ownership of land by tenant farmers who had labored and cultivated the lands for over a century. They had no legal rights over it.
According to Bhasin that Akeela Naz is a predominant voice in Pakistan’s struggle of the landless. She fought for what is due for the farmers despite being a minority and a Christian in a predominantly Muslim country .
Akeela is the first woman to sign up with the Anjuman Muzareen Punjab (AMP). Her powers of mobilization in 2000 helped immensely in AMP’s struggle to get ownership rights for the tenant farmers of Punjab.
Her tall frame, clad in salwar-kurta, became familiar for the local farming women. She began to organize the the AMP across the 15 districts of Pakistan’s Punjab province. They came to be known as the “thapa” force. A thapa is a wooden washing baton used to beat the dirt out of clothes. It became their emblem to symbolize their intention to fight an unjust order. It was by no means an easy battle. The authorities had intimidated them over the past 10 years by using the police force.
The AMP’s struggle came to a head in March 2010 when it organized a long march from the Khanewal district of Punjab to Multan. Akeela’s band of women was out in full force during the rally. They wore red ribbons of protest on their wrists and arms and holding their thapas in their hands.
Akeela registered the Peasant Women Society in 2008 with the objective of empowering women farmers through education and vocational training. Every massive gatherings of women that she organises, she makes sure to touch upon issues of health, literacy and domestic violence.
Bhasin also recognized the difficulties ahead for women like Akeela Naz who make their own roads by walking.
“The struggle of the AMP is remarkably one of the most radical turning point in Pakistan today. Its future and the future of the Akeelas of the country will depend greatly on the future of democracy in Pakistan,” says Bhasin.