article on bonded labour
DAILY TIMES LAHORE
Saturday, February 12, 2011
Peasant family languishes in private jail of landlord for 13 years
By Abbas Kassar
HYDERABAD: Muno Bheel belongs to a minority community, and had worked on farmlands of an influential landlord, Abdul Rehman Mari, in Jhol in Sanghar district along with his family members for years.
He is seeking recovery of his family held by the landlord in his private jail since May 1998. His family was once recovered by police on the order of the Sindh High Court (SHC) on a petition of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) but the landlord, along with his henchmen, raided Bheel’s house and kidnapped nine members of his family, including his elderly parents, wife, daughters and a son.
Bheel filed a case with Jhudo police station in Mirpurkhas district but police took no action to recover the kidnapped family. Since then, he has been running from pillar to post for the recovery of his family and had observed the longest hunger strike in the history of Pakistan in front of the Hyderabad Press Club for 1,287 days. Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, had taken suo motu action in 2006 and had ordered the Sindh chief secretary and the inspector general of police to recover the family, but the CJP’s orders are still to be implemented.
The chief justice had also deputed Mirpurkhas Division DIG Rana Saleemullah to recover Bheel’s family and when, according to Saleemullah, he was close to a place where the peasant family was kept, he was not only transferred but also suspended by the then Sindh chief minister Arbab Rahim for the reason that if police put hands on the landlord his government might fall as the landlord was Khalifa of a politically influential Pir on whose support every successive government in Sindh survives.
In September 2003, a PPP MPA, Ghulam Qadir Chandio, had raised voice on the floor of the Sindh Assembly for the recovery of the family. The then Sindh law minister, Chaudhry Iftikhar (from Sanghar district) had assured the house for early recovery of the family but no action had been taken since then.
Meanwhile, a human rights body, Peace and Human Rights Trust (PHRT), filed a petition in the Hyderabad bench of the SHC against Abdul Rehman Mari, but he got bail from the Mirpurkhas district court. On the petitions of PHRT lawyers, Rana Aslam and Justice (r) Rashid Rizvi, the SHC cancelled Mari’s bail and he was arrested in April 2006 and remained in Hyderabad Central Jail for 18 months. But police yet again failed to recover the family of Bheel from his private jail at his farm near Jhol town of the Sanghar district.
Landlords in Sindh occasionally sell their peasants to Balochistan landlords and it is suspected that the family of Bheel has also been sold. The bonded or forced labour is a modern form of slavery. Though there is a law called Sindh Tenancy Act under which landlords and peasants are supposed to share yield on an equal basis but the law has never been implemented and Mukhtiarkar (the land revenue officer of a tehsil) is the sole arbiter under the law who always takes side with landlord.
In 1992, during Nawaz Sharif’s government, a law named Bonded Labour System Abolition Act was enacted yet the practice of bonded labour continues in the country and according to a survey conducted by Ramzan Memon of Bhandar Hari Sangat there are around two million bonded peasants in Sindh. The worst affected areas with regard to bonded labour are Sanghar, Mirpurkhas and Thar.
Majority of the bonded peasants are Hindus belonging to Bheel, Kolhi and Meghwar communities.
Various human rights organisations, including the HRCP, PHRT and Green Rural Development Organisation, have liberated thousands of bonded labourers from the clutches of landlords and brick kiln owners. The liberated families are living in five Hari camps near Hyderabad.
Under Bonded Labour System Abolition Act 1992 and rules framed under it, the district governments are responsible for the liberty of bonded labour, advocate Aslam Rana, president of the Pakistan chapter of the PHRT said.
HRCP Sindh Coordinator Dr Ashothama said their organisation could secure the release of bonded labour from the private jails of landlords and brick kiln owners through court orders, but it had no resources to rehabilitate them.
The peasants had seen a ray of hope when MQM chief Altaf Hussain raised their voice in his public meetings but within few days he succumbed to the pressure of feudal lords. Bheel is living in a humble house, in Hari camp near Kotri town of Jamshoro district along with 300 families. At 60, he is still hopeful of meeting his family he has not seen since 1998.
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