Punjab: Bonded Labour: Police in Cahoots with Landlords
Volunteers for Social Justice (VSJ), a Human Rights organisation based in Phillaur, Jalandhar is reported to have filed cases, on December 10, 1999 with the district Magistrate for the release of Amar Singh and Charan Singh, two bonded labourers in village Dhingi of Tehsil Nabha. In the absence of any action for their release, the two labourers took refuge in the office of VSJ. The police picked up Amar Singh's brother in law and Charan Singh's son in law, and started threatening them. They were told that they would be imprisoned if Amar Singh and Charan Singh did not return to work or did not repay the debt they owned to the landlords.
Bonded labour is regarded as a form of slavery and is illegal in India. Article 23 of the Constitution prohibits the use of forced labour. Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 has outlawed the practice. There are International Human Rights Treaties that India has signed that prohibit the practice of bonded labour. The law provides that if a case is brought before the district Magistrate, he/she can order the release and rehabilitation of bonded labourers. It also provides for the setting up of district vigilance co-ordinator.
On February 7, this year several landlords, it is alleged, went to the Organisation's office looking for its Co-ordinator, Jai Singh, at 7 in the morning. Since he was not there they are reported to have confronted his daughter and Amar Singh outside the office. When Amar Singh ran in to the office to get help, the landlords forced their way in to the office and attempted to abduct bonded labourers who had taken shelter in the office. The VSJ called the police, without any result. There was pressure on the police by the media after this incident and it is reported that the police visited the office of the organisation on February 9.
The Amnesty International, on being approached by the VSJ, has raised the issue for the defence of the Human Rights Defenders working on bonded labour. --Y. P. Chhibbar, General Secretary
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