Sanghar, Sindh: Political activists, growers and civil society representatives here emphasized the need to bring land owners employers and sharecroppers employees to a dialogue table to remove any confrontation between them over minor disputes. They said better relationship between them might be in the interest of the agriculture products, which is backbone of the country’s economy.
They were speaking at a “Dialogue with key stakeholders: Livelihood challenges to agriculture sector and brick kiln workers”, organized by Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research PILER in Sanghar.
Hassan Askari of Pakistan Workers Party PWA, Abdul Qayyum, Mir Mohammed Nizamani, Akhtar Ali Mari abadgar, Punhal Sario, Shujauddin Qureshi, Nobahar Wasan, a large number of peasants, land owners employers, trade unionists, media persons, professionals, civil society activists attended the programmed.
They said issuing loans to employees in advance usually traps the peasants and in result entire families live as bonded in Sindh.
Punhal Sario of Hari Porhiat Council, working for protecting the rights of haris, linked the feudal system to the base of all evils and said peasants and small growers are victims of the system. In his understanding, since landlords represent their own class, they deprive the oppressed class haris of their rights. He said the successive governments in Sindh province usually represent the feudal and never think to implement the law for dealing with this matter, specially the relationship between the landlord and peasants.
Sindh Tenancy Act is outdated and it should be replaced with a new law. the government should form new law to resolve the issues between hari and employers. There should be hari courts so the registered haris may move to the court for justice. He said the Tenancy Act itself has affected the haris. He supported a move to initiate a dialogue between haris and land owners to improve the system and remove controversy between the two traditional share partners. In this situation the haris may live and work in safe environment.
It has been observed that haris do not have their permanent shelter. In case of losing job cultivation as sharecropper, the haris face hardships.
He said the laws always run the entire affairs of the countries in the world, but saying in Pakistan there are gaps in the implementation of such rules. He quoted the Tenancy Act, which came in to being after the long struggle initiated by political and hari leaders since 1930. The credit should go to struggle of hari leaders, led by Comrade Hyder Bakhsh Jatoi and others. In 1950, when the Tenancy Act was imposed in 1950, the punishment of violation of the law was fine of Rs500. Since then the punishment for landlord and employer has been the same. Therefore, now is the need of time to get registration of haris and link them to social security institutions so they may live a safe life in terms of their livelihood.
Hassan Askari of Pakistan Awami Workers Party PAWP tracing the history of the relationship between the land owner and sharecropper said the system used to run smoothly in which both landlord and hari families did not have any conflict. He said president Pervez Musharraf-led government formed a law, in which it was decided that haris have to pay all expenses of agriculture machinery, like harvesting and land levelling.
He pointed out that the increasing salinity has turned more land in to barren land. That is why haris are not acceptable to landlords, because their role in cultivation has been declined. Haris do not have permanent shelter. They live on the land where they work as sharecropper. Whenever any dispute between the landowner comes to surface the families are forced to leave the shelter and shift the families to other places in search of safe livelihoods for their survival. Sometimes haris live through generation under the similar makeshift abodes without bringing any change in their life style.
The government should design a policy to announce awarding the plots free of cost to haris where they have been living. When they own the shelter and feel safe they may work hard to increase the products.
There is need to end feudal system through struggle and form laws to improve the system in agriculture sector.
Shujauddin Qureshi, senior research associate of PILER said out of total workforce of about 14 million in Sindh 7.74 million live in rural areas and 5.72 million in urban areas.
According to him 45 percent total workforce associated with agriculture sector in Pakistan which is not receiving its rights. There are laws to resolve the conflict if any between landlords and tenants to avoid any conflict but there is gaps in implementation process. He said PILER has initiated ‘Sindh Land Rights Movement’, the stronger network to resolve the issues between employers and workers.
Since haris are uneducated they do not get their right as per the set rules between the employee and employer. Landlord has control over the entire situation, because peasants are illiterate and do not have record sheet so they may challenge any wrongful decisions.
Especially in Sanghar there are several villages, which do not have basic facilities like education, health and water supply schemes. PILER wants to make functional closed schools and health facilities to benefit the masses, because the peasants and other working communities cannot afford to spend more income over the expenses of hospitals and educational institutes. In this regard, he pointed out the role and responsibility of elected representatives, who seem reluctant to take up the issues of their own constituencies.
Mir Mohammed Nizamani, a small landlord of Sanghar said civil society organizations should realize the situation that growers always support haris, except rare cases, in which certain land owners deprive them of their exact share of products in agriculture. Hence, he said all landlords should not be labelled as exploiters, because usually traditional landlords believe in promoting safe environment, in which haris work peacefully.
He said in some cases after spraying pesticides to crop, peasants are forced to pick cotton very second day and in result they face diseases. In this situation, small children and babies fall prey to the poisonous pests to the fields. Mir Mohammed Nizamani said landlords should have right to fix the rates of their products. Clarifying income tax, he said irrigation and agriculture taxes may be equal to the taxes paying industrialists.
Another grower Akhtar Ali Mari accused farmers of not working dedicatedly and criticized the ‘bonded labour’ issue, being taken up by civil society and rights groups. He said haris get loans in advance, but at the time of payment after harvest they challenge the employer by taking shelter of judiciary and media. This creates conflicts between the both partners, which is not in the interest of the agriculture. Therefore, he asked the participants to trace the reality before making everything an issue to damage the agriculture sector.
Yaqub Brohi of Sindh Agriculture and Forestry Workers Coordinating Organisation Safwco said despite the availability of laws and benefit for farmers announced by the government, on ground situation is not favourable for farmer families. He said farmers’ cooperative societies should be formed and they buy piece of land for building shelters so haris may live a safe life.
In the starting, Altaf Ahmed briefed the audience about the issues of peasants and kiln workers and the exploitative approach of the employers, saying they have invited all the stakeholders, including landlords and peasants together to discuss the issues and find permanent solution. He said though there are laws, including old Tenancy Act, the workers feel themselves insecure because of exploitative approach by the employer. They do not have access to social security and get their rights as per the law.