Orissa abolishes `bartan` system of bonded labour: NHRC
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Last Updated: Tuesday, March 08, 2011, 21:50
New Delhi: After intervention by NHRC, the Orissa government has abolished the 'bartan' system prevalent in some areas in the state under which upper caste people used to extract work from members of some communities for a pittance, the rights body said on Tuesday.

The move came after recommendations by the National Human Rights Commission and relentless efforts by petitioner Baghambar Pattanaik since 2006, it said.

The government of Orissa issued a notification last month "abolishing the practice of extracting work from barbers and washermen by upper caste families in the state under the customary 'bartan' system for which they were paid a pittance like 15 kg of paddy for the whole year," the NHRC said.

The government through its Panchayati Raj Department has impressed upon all the district collectors to instruct the field functionaries to ensure that the practice is discouraged at all costs by taking stringent action against the guilty under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976.

"Since time immemorial communities like barbers and washermen have been rendering certain kinds of services to other people in a customary and traditional manner. It is seen that some of these customs and traditions are exploitative and beneath the dignity of human beings," the notification says.

"Some have gone to the extent of forcing the barbers to wash the feet of guests during social ceremonies like marriage. The barbers are sometimes forced to lift leaf plates containing leftovers at the end of ceremonial feasts."

During proceedings on a petition by Pattanaik, linking several similar complaints, the NHRC had described the practice as a bonded labour under the 1976 Act.

It also held as "erroneous" the earlier stand taken by the Panchayati Raj Department of the government of Orissa in saying that the barbers and washermen working in rural areas cannot be identified as bonded labourers.

"The Commission in its recent camp sitting in Orissa on January 18 again asked the state authorities to stop 'bartan' system and take action against those who failed to stop this illegal practice or abetted it," the NHRC said.

Pattanaik had alleged that under 'bartan', the upper caste families in district Puri of Orissa gave an advance of a little quantity of paddy for each married male in a village at a particular time of the year. In return, that person called 'sewak' had to render services to all the members of the family including relatives and guests during social ceremonies throughout the year without any other remuneration.

The Commission had found as "factually incorrect" the inquiry report furnished by the Collector of Puri on the issue that no 'bartan' system existed in the district.

"If the pledge of egalitarian society made in the Constitution is to be redeemed the public servant entrusted with the task of implementing social welfare legislation shall have to imbibe the values of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity enshrined in the preamble," it had said.


First Published: Tuesday, March 08, 2011, 21:50

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