Speakers call for reforms in Sindh Tenancy Act, establishment of Hari Courts

From 2013 to 2019 period estimated 5,639 bonded peasants and their family members were released from the captivity of landlords in Sindh. Of these, 1,769 (31 per cent) were women. In bonded labour practice, women suffer more as they are targeted for sexual abuse and harassment by landlords and employers, a report reveals.

Hari Welfare Association (HWA), a peasants’ rights organisation in Sindh launched its flagship annual report “State Of Peasants’ Rights in Sindh in 2019” on the online platform Zoom on Tuesday.

Human rights, labour rights activists, an ILO representative and a government functionary took part in the discussion, which mostly highlighted the plight of agriculture workers in Sindh.

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 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 Hari courts for resolving issues of Haris in Sindh.

Veerji Kolhi, Advisor to Sindh Chief Minister on Human Rights said in fact the Sindh Tenancy Act was passed after a long struggle led by Comrade Hyder Bux Jatoi, but it was not changed. He underlined the need to change the mindset of landlords to provide respect to their workers.

A representative of ILO Saad Gilani gave a presentation about ILO’s interventions for rural workers. He said ILO has launched a Pakistan Decent Work Country Programme 2016-22. Moreover, he pointed out that two other projects in Pakistan have been initiated which pertain to rural areas including Eliminating Child Labour and Forced Labour in the Cotton, Textile and Garment Value Chain: An Integrated Approach and Promoting Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work in Cotton Supply Chain.

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 is ambiguity in the Sindh Tenancy Act, which needed to be reviewed.

He said the Sindh High Court had given a positive verdict in favour of the Sindh Tenancy Act but the provincial government has 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,” he said.

A women’s rights activist Prof. Amar Sindhu said the majority of peasants in Sindh are women, but they are not provided with their rights.

She said in Sindh, over 1.7 million women are performing the job of cotton picking, which requires a minimum of 12 hours of work in a day in 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 pointed out that the Sindh government has passed an anti-bonded labour law, but no serious measure has been taken to implement it. The District Vigilance Committees under the anti-bonded labour law have to be formed in each district, but so far only 7 district committees have been notified out of a total of 29 districts of the province.

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

Akram Ali, President HWA, while presenting key points in the report said that in October 2019, the division bench of the appellate Sindh High Court in Hyderabad had ordered the government of Sindh to amend the Sindh Tenancy Act and remove all peasant 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 has not taken any measures to implement the court’s orders in the judgement.

Akram added that in December 2019, the Government of Sindh introduced the Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Act (SWAWA). The act is a remarkable milestone, which recognizes and regularizes women workers’ work in the agriculture sector but its implementation has not been seen after the lapse of 6 months.

Akram also added that in 2019, 2,309 bonded labourers, 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 the police on the court’s 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.

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

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