Hindu labourers in Pak 'private jails'
Pakistan is among the countries with largest number of ‘slaves’, elaborates Jay Bhagwan.
Hundreds of thousands of Hindus in Sindh and Balochistan provinces of Pakistan live in bondage to landlords, who force them work in agricultural fields and brick kilns and fisheries and confine them to "private jails" at night.
On Wednesday, 13 Hindu bonded labourers were rescued by the police from the "private jail" of a landowner in Sindh.
Pakistan is among the countries with the highest number of bonded labourers in the world. Out of the over 2.3 million bonded labourers in Pakistan, 80 per cent were Hindus, Dr. Ghulam Haider of the Green Rural Development Organisation told Dawn newspaper in 2015.
He said that the inhuman practice of bonded labour was rampant in agriculture, in brick kilns, and in fisheries.
The 13 Hindu labourers were rescued from a village called Ramji Kohli, which the police raided on the order of a local court. They were to be produced in the Sindh High Court on Thursday. The court intervened after a person named Dharmoon Kohli sought the "liberation" of his family members from the captivity of the landlord.
The 13 were confined in the "private jail" of the accused landlord for five years. A police team led by Abdul Razak Umrani, SHO of Nagarpakar police station, effected the rescue.
The 13 included four women and five children. Kohli told the court that they were being forced to work for the landlord without payment of wages in cash or kind. The rescued persons said the women captives were sexually exploited by the landowner and his relatives.
A total of 257 bonded labourers, including children and women, were released from different districts of Sindh in 2016. Another 94 bonded labourers were released from Balochistan and Punjab. Those rescued from Balochistan were all Hindus.
"The bonded labourers released in Balochistan were basically peasants from different districts of Sindh belonging to the Hindu community forced to carry out agricultural work in the districts of Kech and Turbat," the Dawn report said.
Many of the bonded labourers are mercilessly beaten and exploited by influential landlords who did not flinch from "committing atrocities against these vulnerable communities," the Dawn newspaper said.
"Pakistan has become the third-highest bonded labour-infected country in the world," Dr Haider said, alleging that the Bonded Labour Abolition Act of 1992 was not being implemented as rigorously as it should be.
Earlier this month speakers at the release of a report titled "State of Peasants' Rights in Sindh 2016" lamented that Sindh's political, social and administrative structure was under the control of "feudal and landlord families" who did not allow pro-peasant amendments in laws.
In April 2015, the Sindh Assembly passed the Sindh Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Bill which became the Sindh Bonded Labour System Abolition Act (SBLSAA) in 2016.
But the issue of bonded labourers remained unaddressed because the Act. District vigilance committees were never formed and culprits were never arrested and sentenced under the act.
"The number of bonded labourers released in recent years — 2014 (275 labourers), 2015 (132 labourers) and 2016 (257 labourers) — has decreased significantly compared to 2013 when 1,260 bonded labourers were released on the orders of the courts," the Dawn reported.
In 2016, a total of 257 bonded labourers, including children and women, were released from different districts in Sindh. Besides the 94 bonded labourers rescued from Balochistan and Punjab. Those rescued in Balochistan were basically peasants from different districts of Sindh belonging to the Hindu community.
"This alarming trend requires the urgent attention of civil society organisations, which should investigate and discover the underlying reasons.
"By December 2016, approximately 1,580 families and 8,984 individuals were living in eight ex-bonded peasant camps. Of the total individuals, 4,358 were children below 18 years of age. These camps were without health, education or other basic services and facilities," a Dawn report published on December 11 said.
(Views are strictly personal.)