Cuttack: A PIL in Orissa high court has sought its intervention in the release and rehabilitation of 13 people who are allegedly serving as bonded labour in the guise of the ‘bartan’ system in three villages of Puri district. The ‘bartan’ is a medieval practice of extracting work from barbers and washermen by upper caste families who pay a pittance of 9 to 15 kg of paddy for the whole year under an oral agreement in rural Odisha.
Acting on the PIL filed by advocate Sevati Soren on behalf of Anti-Slavery India (a public charitable trust) represented through its chairman Baghambar Pattanaik on September 24, the high court on Monday issued a notice to the Puri district collector, seeking a reply.
The state government had abolished the ‘bartan’ system in January 2011 after it was asked by the National Human Rights (NHRC) to stop the practice and take action against those who practice it illegally or are abetting it. The NHRC had described the practice as bonded labour as defined under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976.
While abolishing the ‘bartan’ system, the state government, through its panchayati raj department, had directed all district collectors to instruct their field officials to ensure that such an evil practice is discouraged at all costs and stringent action taken against the culprits under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976.
According to the petition 13 people – six from Nalibasanta, one from Proporanga and six from Gorual under Satyabadi, Pipili and Puri Sadar police stations of Puri district, respectively, were “struggling for their release from the bonded labour system and the right to live with dignity”.
The petition alleged that when they refused to stick to this profession under the ‘bartan’ system, they were subjected to social and economic boycott, followed by physical torture. “Complaints in connection regarding the plight of the 13 victims of bonded labour had not yielded their release so far,” the petition alleged.
As the High Court Bar Association members were abstaining from court work, the petitioner appeared in person before the court. Taking note of the presence of the 72 year-old Baghambar, the division bench of Chief Justice K S Jhaveri and Justice K R Mohapatra posted the matter to December 2 for hearing wherein it expected the Puri district collector to file his response.
The PIL has sought the court’s direction to the district collector to conduct fresh inquiry as per circular and guidelines issued by the state government. The PIL expected the court to direct the NHRC to monitor and oversee the fresh inquiries to be conducted in the three villages.