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.