Sindh government has badly failed to distribute promised 144,561 acres of land among poor, causing unrest among expected beneficiaries and civil society organizations.
According to the Landless Hari Program 2008, Sindh government had to distribute 200,000 acres of land among poor farmers, particularly women peasants, but it distributed only 55,439 acres out of promised 200,000 acres. Therefore, it is the right time for Sindh government to start 3rd phase of the Landless Hari Program and distribute remaining 144,561 acres of land among women of the freed bonded laborers, who are primarily agriculture workers and can contribute to Sindh’s agriculture growth. This initiative will secure the livelihood of these marginalized people and help eliminate the bonded labor in Sindh province.
The recent protest camp of 72 persons set up outside Hyderabad Press Club for 22 days in scorching heat of June and July 2014 without proper food, water, shelter and sanitation facilities had again asked for rehabilitation of the bonded labor in Sindh. These were the agriculture workers, including minor children, women and elderly persons of 9 families from Umerkot who were freed from a private confinement of a landlord with the intervention of court, police and NGOs under the Anti Bonded Labor System (Abolition) Act 1992.
The protesting families blamed that their belongings and cattle (nine cows and nine goats) were taken away by the landlord where they were bonded before the court order. After the court order, they could only manage to reach Hyderabad without food, land and shelter. Their belongings were the only asset to manage their lives, because the government has still not taken steps for providing any alternative arrangements for their rehabilitation despite knowing that bonder labor situation in Sindh over the past years has been visibly uneven. That situation led them to protest for recovery of their belongings and cattle.
According to estimates of ILO (International Labour Organization), nearly 20.9 million people are victims of forced labor worldwide mainly in South Asia. State of Human Rights 2007 of HRCP (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan) reports that 1.7 million people are bonded labor in Pakistan. A research book “Bondage in Modern Era” written by Sanaullah Abbasi, currently serving as DIG at Hyderabad says factors like poverty and acute need of social security protection, lack of food and shelter are the underlying issues that give rise to this problem. According to book ‘Land Rights: Peasants Economic Justice’ published by South Asia Partnership (SAP-PK), land rights are linked to the right to livelihood and right to food.
Land is not only the sign of prestige but also the base of social status in the region. It is the symbol of the specific cultural and historical collectivity as well. It is the means of substance of majority of the people. If we say that is their lifestyle, it will not be out of place. Peasants and rural workers are the people who actually serve the inhabitants of this mother land.
In Sindh, 60 percent of poor rural households are not farm households, with no access to land or water while about two percent of the households control more than 45 percent of the land area. “Land ownership patterns are thus considered major reason for the growing hunger and bonded labor. The majority of cultivable land is owned by large landowners, who tend to concentrate on growing cash crops or producing food for the market, which is not affordable to poorer families. Due to lack of access to agricultural land, a major proportion of poor farmers are compelled to work as sharecroppers, or seasonal or daily wage agricultural laborers. Heavy burden of debt turns agriculture workers into bonded labourers. These are the people who neither have land nor residential security.
It is unfortunate that Sindh government has still not made any alternative arrangement or evolving rehabilitation program for these bonded labourers, except taking some temporary measures such as EOBI, BISP, zakat or food. The Landless Hari Program (LHP) launched by Sindh government considering promise of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto is one of the most significant programs to increase income and social status of landless women. Hence, this program must be converted into rehabilitation of bonded laborers currently living without proper food, water, shelter and sanitation and other basic facilities of life in different camps arranged by different NGOs and CSOs outside Hyderabad. The initiative will secure the livelihood, food of these marginalized people and eliminate the bonded labour in Sindh province.
The writer is Executive Director of the Society for Environmental Actions, Re-Construction & Humanitarian response (SEARCH). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org