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July 23, 2020

‘5,639 bonded peasants released from landlords’ captivity in Sindh’

Karachi

July 23, 2020

From 2013 to 2019, around 5,639 bonded peasants and their family members were released from the captivity of landlords in Sindh, reveals a report.

Among the released peasants, 1,769 (or 31 per cent) were women, according to the report. “In bonded labour practice, women suffer more as they are targeted for sexual abuse and harassment by landlords and employers.”

The report was released on Tuesday by the Hari Welfare Association (HWA), a peasants’ rights organisation in Sindh. The report, titled ‘State of Peasants’ Rights in Sindh in 2019’, was launched during an online discussion via Zoom.

The participants were of the view that the Sindh Tenancy Act 1950 was an effective piece of legislation, but no serious measure was taken to implement it in letter and spirit.

They demanded of the authorities to bring reforms in the Sindh Tenancy Act 1950 and effectively implement the Sindh Bonded Labour (System) Abolition Act 2015. They also demanded the establishment of special courts for resolving the issues of peasants in Sindh.

Veerji Kolhi, adviser to the Sindh chief minister on human rights, said the Sindh Tenancy Act was passed “after a long struggle led by Comrade Hyder Bux Jatoi, but it was not changed”.

International Labour Organisation (ILO) representative Saad Gilani gave a presentation about their projects for rural areas in Pakistan.

Karamat Ali, executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), said rural workers should be registered under the social security law. He said there was ambiguity in the Sindh Tenancy Act which needed to be reviewed.

He said the Sindh High Court had given a positive verdict in the favour of the Sindh Tenancy Act but the provincial government had challenged it in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. “We should ask the Sindh government as to why it has gone to court to change it.”

Women’s rights activist Prof Amar Sindhu said majority peasants in Sindh were women, but they were not provided with their rights.

In Sindh, she added, over 1.7 million women were performing the job of cotton picking which required a minimum of 12 hours work in a day in the agriculture fields in extremely hard conditions. “They pick cotton in the fields and remain under threat of diseases and infections. They mostly work on a seasonal basis. Their wages are below the level of the provincial minimum wage.”

She said the Sindh government had passed an anti-bonded labour law, but no serious measure has been taken to implement. “The district vigilance committees under the anti-bonded labour law have to be formed in each district, but so far only seven district committees have been notified out of total 29 districts of the province.”

HRCP Sindh representative Prof Imdad Chandio said they had initiated a movement against the bonded labour in Sindh in the late 1980s and due to that movement, a large number of peasants were freed from forced labour.

HWA President Akram Ali, while presenting key points in the report, said that in October 2019, the division bench of the appellate high court in Hyderabad had ordered the Sindh government to amend the Sindh Tenancy Act and remove “all anti-peasants’ provisions in it which includes removal of executive powers to decide peasants’ cases because such cases fall under the judicial jurisdiction.” However, he said, the government had not taken any measures to implement the court’s orders.

Akram said that in December 2019, the government introduced the Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Act. “The act is a remarkable milestone as it recognises and regularises women workers’ work in the agriculture sector but its implementation was not seen even after the lapse of six months.”

He added that in 2019, 2,309 bonded labours, including 819 children and 743 women, were reportedly released from the agriculture and brick kiln sectors. “Out of these, 587 bonded labourers were released from the brick kiln sector and 1,722 bonded peasants, including 606 children and 583 women, were released with the help of police on the courts’ orders in the agriculture sector.”

A vast majority of the bonded peasants and their family members were recovered from the illegal detention or private jails of landlords in Umerkot, he added.

Human rights activist Zulfiqar Shah conducted the session. The online launch was also addressed by Wali Mohammad, Pirbhu Lal Satiyani, Jan Odhano, Sattar Zangejo, Rubina Chandio and Pushpa Kumari.