IT IS noon and a group of protesters armed with banners – indicating that they belong to the “Overaged Berozgar Union, Punjab” – are heading towards the main gate of “Dreamland”, a closed private settlement located on Patiala Road, which owns a house by the CM of Punjab.
Protesters shout slogans against Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann and the AAP government as they slowly march towards the gate of Dreamland, where hundreds of police officers, batons at the ready, stand guard. As soon as the group of demonstrators arrives near the gate, the police intervene. There are minor scuffles and the slogans go up in decibels. The paltry group, however, is quickly overpowered, after which they decide to crouch down on the road upright in the scorching heat and begin making speeches.
The Overaged Berozgar union protest at this location adds to the already long list of people already demonstrating at the main gate – nurses looking for jobs, candidates on the waiting list for clerk jobs and gendarmes.
Scenes of protests outside the Dreamland company have become commonplace. Barriers were placed near the main gate of the settlement, with a large contingent of police always present on site as part of Mann’s security. The alley where the CM’s house is located is also crawling with security guards.
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“Bhagwant Mann has his birthplace in Satoj village, Sunam constituency. He had lived here briefly after becoming an MP for his second term. These days, he only comes here once in a while. But since one of his residences is located here, we come here to protest,” said Raman Kumar, chairman of Overaged Berojgar Union.
Daljit Kaur, who is protesting to get her job back as a nurse at Rajindra Medical College, said: “The last time he came here was about a fortnight ago. He didn’t even stop to listen to us.
Raman Kumar added that his union had already organized a similar protest outside the house of Punjab Education Minister Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer in Barnala. On June 4, they decided to go to the colony of Mann’s Dreamland to express their colony.
“There are around 4,000 people like us in Punjab. We had taken the Teacher Eligibility Test (TET) under the old Congressional regime. However, we did not receive any jobs. Bhagwant Mann used to meet us when he was in opposition. He himself said that when politicians had no age to run for office, why should job seekers? Thirty-seven is the age limit for applying for jobs. Many of us have been protesting for many years.
Although members of the Union of Overaged Berozgar decided to leave the area after protesting until evening, a few others remained for days, pitching tents and holding pakka dharnas. With proxy polls from Sangrur Lok Sabha expected later this month, the protests are likely to intensify.
One of the pakka dharnas held at the site is held by nurses who want to be rehired. Baljit Kaur, one such protesting nurse from Bharoch village in Nabha, while sitting in a tent near the main gate of the settlement, said: “We were employed at Rajindra Medical College during the first wave. of Covid. After the second wave, about 150 of us were relieved of our duties. Since then, we have been demanding to get our jobs back. But the Congress government of the day did not listen to us. We then launched a hunger strike in January this year and Bhagwant Mann himself came to tell us that if the AAP is elected to power, we will all be rehired. We’ve been sitting outside his colony since May 4 and he hasn’t even met us once.
Kaur said that to maintain their pakka dharna, they divided themselves into batches, with the nurses taking turns and a few staying overnight daily.
Not far from the nurses’ protest is a dharna by a union made up of members who passed the employee test but did not get government jobs.
A union protester, Shubam Garg, said: “In 2016, a total of 1,883 clerk jobs were advertised. After that, a number of them were put on the waiting list. Later, during the reign of Congress, an additional 2,100 positions were advertised. However, people already on the waiting lists were not taken into account. The last recruitment was in 2018 and after that the government completely stopped recruiting clerks. Bhagwant Mann, when he was in opposition, told us that if the AAP were elected to power, he would look into the matter because unemployment was a problem his government wanted to deal with as a matter of priority. However, we have been sitting here since April 4 and he has not even stopped once to listen to us. ”
The third pakka dharna in the row are applicants who want to be hired as police officers in the Punjab Police. According to one of the protesters, Gursewak Singh from Lalbai village in Gidderbaha, all union members had passed the physical tests and had been put on the waiting list. “We held a number of meetings with previous governments and a meeting with Bhagwant Mann himself. He then assured us that he would consider our requests, but nothing was done. They can do physical tests again if they want,” he said.
Baljit Ram, 29, a second protester from the same group, said six women from the union positioned themselves at the Haripura Chowk water reservoir to press their demands. “We have been here since May 8, but no one has come to meet us yet,” he said.
On a normal day, around 20-30 protesters can be seen perched under each tent, which has mattresses and fans, at the three pakka dharnas sites. In case of rain, two carts with waterproof covers are kept on standby.
“The ventilators and mattresses were arranged for us by BKU-Ugrahan,” said Bimla, one of the protesting nurses, pointing to farmers’ union flags flying in the area.
She added that protesters were allowed to use the Dreamland Colony bathroom located near the main door for showers etc. until 7 a.m. every day.