Bonded labourers: Displacement in Hari camps makes matters worse

Post Source: Dawn Correspondent – 29 Apr, 2010

UMERKOT, April 28: Speakers at conference held on Wednesday criticised displacement of peasant families in the name of freedom from bonded labour and said the landlord was still cruel but displacement and settlement of peasants in Hari camps was making matters worse. Speaking at “Peasant Conference 2010” organised by the Peasants and Workers Network Sindh in collaboration with South Asia Partnership on Wednesday, they said that displacement was no solution and called for giving peasants wages equal to industrial workers.

They said that Sindh Tenancy Act had become outdated and flawed, which needed amendments.

Renowned writer Syed Sardar Ali Shah said that even in this modern age, peasant of Sindh was living below poverty line and facing cruelty and manipulation of accounts at the hands of landlords.

He said that Sindh Tenancy Act had run out its utility and become flawed, which did not support peasants’ rights. Therefore, amendments suggested by peasant organisations should be incorporated in the law and its implementation should be ensured, he said.

Umerkot administrator Ghulam Akbar Laghari said that some organisations displaced peasants at the pretext of giving them liberty from bonded labour, which dealt a serious blow to agriculture sector in Umerkot, Sanghar and Mirpurkhas districts.

He said that poverty and richness were linked to hard work and motivation and urged peasants to enrol their children in schools who could change their destiny.

Punhal Saryo of Hari Porhiat Council said that when institutions do not work properly, laws become just decorations and when state fails to ensure basic rights and facilities, people and society suffer from imbalances.

He said that agriculture in Sindh had suffered from displacement of peasants. Vigilance committees were set up during previous government but unfortunately the then nazims who were chairmen of the committees did not convene meetings, he said.

If the committees had played their role of arbitrator between the landlord and the peasant the situation would not have come to such a pass, he said.

He lauded the government’s step to distribute land among landless peasants but questioned transparency. There were reports that feudal lords were being awarded lands in the name of peasants, he alleged.

He said that agricultural reforms were needed now and the government should confiscate big landlords’ lands and distribute it among the poor.Peasants and Workers Network president Rashida Saand said that during 10 years, 7,500 male, 8,100 female and 10,000 children peasants were displaced from Umerkot who were living a miserable life in Hari camps in Kotri, Qasimabad, and Matiari.

They were compelled to starve at the Hari camps, which lacked health and education facilities and were involved in sex work, therefore, lawyers, judges and intellectuals should play their role to save peasants and agriculture of this region, she said.

Zulfiqar Shah of the Institute for Social Movement Pakistan, Dr Noor Ali Shah, agriculturalist, Taju Bheel, peasant leader, Ali Akbar Gaju, secretary of Peasants and Workers Network, and Ali Mir Shah, progressive grower and intellectual also spoke at the conference.

The conference suggested survey of peasants in the district, ownership rights to peasants, implementation of tenancy act and urged brick kiln owners to pay fixed wages to peasants and implement labour laws.

It highlighted growing drug peddling, sale of bootlegged liquor, gambling, acute water shortage for irrigation and drinking, increase in hepatitis B and C and mushrooming business of quacks in the district.

The conference adopted a number of resolutions, demanding social security, old age benefits, education, health facilities and wages for peasants equal to industrial workers, end to corporate farming, provision of fertilisers and pesticides at subsidised rates, end to bonded labour and peasants’ participation in decision making by landlords.

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