Alliance formed to secure peasants’ rights
Karachi: The Sindh Land Reforms Movement (SLRM), which comprises 18 organisations, has initiated a move to protect the rights of peasant families and those in bonded labour.
During a meeting in which the SLRM presented a joint declaration, SLRM activists observed that two years of consecutive flooding had made farmers’ families more vulnerable.
The activists demanded of the provincial government to allocate land and provide incentives for haris to form agriculture cooperatives.
They emphasised the need for facilitating the marginalised rural population — such as haris, wage workers, share croppers and bonded labourers – so that they could raise their voice and claim their rights and entitlements as equal citizens.
“Rebuilding the lives and livelihoods of the rural population requires a new social contract of the state with the people and a massive overhaul of government priorities and policies,” they observed.
“This is the first step forward. We hope leading organisations and networks will join this alliance to strengthen the voice of rural communities. The ruling authorities and influential parliamentarians should not think of poor peasants just as a source of votes: these people need social development, education, health, potable water and other facilities in their settlements,” said Karamat Ali, Director Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler).
“We believe that in the forthcoming elections, the voice of the marginalised rural people should be taken into consideration by the elites before they come to them begging for votes,” he said during a meeting held in Hyderabad.
Piler will lead the SRLM steering committee for the next three months in a bid to motivate other organisations working specifically for the rights of peasants.
These rural citizens are deprived of adequate access to education, health, shelter and food security. In addition, the agricultural workforce is denied its rights as employees and is excluded from labour laws.
“It is deplorable that the draft amendment to the Tenancy Act, 1950, which was presented by a coalition of peasant organisations to the Sindh Assembly in February 2009 was rejected. This Sindh Tenancy Act 1950 should be reviewed, updated and amended to bring it in line with prevailing conditions and requirements necessary to the interest of haris,” said the joint declaration.
The declaration also called for the registration of all haris and establishment of hari courts. It also noted that agricultural land was being converted for commercial purposes resulting in haris being driven off their lands.
Besides Piler, representatives of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), Sindh Agriculture Workers Coordinating Organization (SAFWCO), Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum (PFF), South Asia Partnership-Pakistan (SAP-PK), Root Work Foundation (RWF), Bhandar Hari Sangat (BHS), Research Development Foundation (RDF), Sindh Community Foundation, Sindh Hari Porhiat Council (SHPC), Sindh Rural Partners Organization (SRPO), Centre for Peace and Civil Society (CPCS), Green Rural Development Organization (GRDO) and were also in attendance.
They demanded that all labour laws, inclusive of the Industrial Relations Act, ESSI and EOBI, be extended to haris. “Agriculture workers must have the rights to form associations and to bargain collectively, as this is a fundamental constitutional right given to all workers.”
The declaration also called for the Sindh Assembly to immediately re- enact the Bonded Labour Abolition Act (1992), and to adopt the National Policy and Plan of Action (2001) to eradicate bonded labour from the province.
The declaration noted that a majority of the rural population in Sindh depended on agriculture for its livelihood and that, though the share of agriculture in GDP was declining, agriculture was still the largest sector in terms of employment, which indicated a massive neglect of policy-makers towards the rural economy.
The declaration also noted that the vulnerability of rural populace, one which depends primarily on agriculture as a form of livelihood, was particularly intensified in events of natural disasters or man-made crises.