Peasants and rural workers’ voices are unheard: HWA

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Staff Report

KARACHI: Hari Welfare Association (HWA) expressed its great anger over the Government of Sindh and bureaucratic system in the province for being liable for unending sufferings and miseries of peasants and rural workers in Sindh. In the press statement HWA said that on the peasants’ rights day if the government at provincial and district levels are unable to organize any activity in the given locked down covid19 situation, it should have issued at least policy brief to address woes of peasants and rural workers being affected of the current pandemic.

HWA’s statement stated that many of peasants, rural workers and peasants’ rights activists had called in the HWA head office to express their concerns about no improvement in the government’s attitude towards peasants and rural workers since the last peasants’ rights day marked in April 2019. Among them include Punhal Sario (peasant leader), Akram Khaskheli, President Hari Welfare Association, Salih Bilo (peasant activist) and Hussain Bux Chutto (peasant activist).

HWA said that peasants, rural workers and peasants rights activists are getting desperate over the government’s anti-peasant rights move being exposed when (in December 2019) it appealed in the Supreme Court of Pakistan against pro-peasants rights landmark judgement by the Sindh High Court Hyderabad bench in October 2019. The bench had struck down Section-6 of the Sindh Tenancy (Amendment) Act, 2013, whereby Section 24-C of the Sindh Tenancy Act, 1950, was amended to omit prohibition of begaar (unpaid work or work). Meaning unpaid work was legalized through amendments in the Act in 2013. The judgement had also ruled that after the separation of judiciary from the executive, assistant commissioners, additional commissioners and commissioners/collectors did not have powers to make decisions in judicial matters under sections 27, 29 and 30 of the Sindh Tenancy Act. Such executive’s actions are against the provisions of Article 175, 202 and 203 of the Constitution of Pakistan.  The Court had also ordered the government to make amendments in the Sindh Tenancy Act 1950 and take necessary measures including transferring of all peasants’ cases under the STA to the judiciary. However, instead of complying with the High Court’s decision and protecting the rights of peasants in the brutal feudal system and structure, the government has sided with feudal lords to curb and violate fundamental rights of peasants in the province.

HWA said that the government’s lack of seriousness towards peasants’ rights is also being reflected from not conducting agriculture and bonded labour surveys. The federal government had conducted agriculture survey in 2010. In the same year, through the 18th constitutional amendment, the subject of agriculture was transfer to the provincial authority. The government has not conducted any bonded labour survey to assess the gravity of the problem in the province. HWA said that in 2012, 7.74 million people were, directly and indirectly, involved in the agriculture sector; of these, the majority of them were peasants without their land and workers. In 2000, the ILO estimated that 1.8 million peasants were suffering as bonded labourers, and an estimated 6.8 million peasants were executing caste-based labour in Sindh.

HWA said that to receive applause from the concerned quarters, the Government of Sindh has often introduced laws to protect vulnerable groups, but it does not implement those laws. The Sindh Bonded Labour System Abolition Act (SBLSAA) of 2015, the Sindh Industrial Relations Act (SIRA) of 2013 and the Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Act (SWAWA) of 2019 were introduced. Still, these are never implemented by creating the relevant structures and allocating funds. As per SBLSAA, district vigilance committees should be formed in each district of the province but neither these are formed in all districts nor provided funds and guidelines to a few of the formed vigilance committees. Thus, the law is completely dormant. Also, SIRA recognizes peasants, rural workers and fishers as industrial workers. Therefore they would have the right to form associations, but the government has taken no measures to enable rural workers, peasants and fishers to form their associations. Like any other law, the SWAWA has become dormant legislation. HWA said like any other law, implementation of the SWAWA is indispensable to protect rural peasant and worker women from abuse, exploitation, marginalisation and discrimination under the patriarchal, feudal and tribal society. HWA also added that a large number of women are living in slavery in rural areas in the agriculture and brick kiln sectors.

HWA urged to the government to implement all the existing peasants’ rights laws especially the SWAWA and the STA in light of the Sindh High Court’s judgement in October 2019 and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas. In 2018, Pakistan had endorsed the adoption of the declaration and committed to protecting the rights of peasants and rural workers. HWA urged the government to withdraw from an appeal filed in the Supreme Court and amend the STA in light of the UN Declaration and Sindh High Court’s judgement, and also take necessary measures ordered under the same judgement. HWA also urged that government’s land should be distributed among landless peasants and rural workers and in it special preference should be given to women

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