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Beyond Green Revolution: Bonded labour alive and suffering in Punjab
Despite the Green Revolution that showered riches to millions in Punjab, the state has over five lakh labourers who have been working in the filed from generations as bonded labourers because of a small loan their ancestors would have taken.

MENTION GIDDA, Bhangra and Makki ki roti te sarson ka sag and the image of Punjab conjures up in your mind.

 

But can you believe that there are five lakh landless labourers in Punjab, who are more or less owned by the rich land owning families. These lower caste men have to be at the beck and call of their masters and they cannot switch jobs.

 

According to a rough estimate, there are at least five lakh landless labourers in Punjab, who are working in the fields akin to bonded labour. Only once in a year on June 15, are they allowed to change masters but they must be slaves throughout their lives, this startling disclosure was made by Jai Singh Phillaur, president of the ‘Dalit Daasta Virodhi Andolan.’

 

Most of these men work on the lands owned by Jat Sikhs, who comprise the landed and political gentry of the state and own the majority of the land, he added. Life has changed little for these landless labourers, even though the green revolution catapulted Punjab to be one of the richest states in the country.

 

Talking to merinews, Jai Singh, who has been working for the rights of these landless workers since years, said “Most of these men are in dead bondage, their fathers or forefathers took some minor loans and now they are caught in a debt trap”, adding that these labourers and their families work as bonded labour and even their families are in bondage.

 

Caste plays an important role in this whole issue as majority of these workers are from scheduled castes living on the peripheries of the society, indispensable for their labour but untouchables to be accorded freedom and equality. Access is denied to community tanks as well as the Panchayat land causing a lot of harassment to the families of these labourers, said Jai Singh, who also has faced the wrath of the society, while fighting against this scourge. 

 

While Punjab represents a land filled with prosperity and happiness, life seems to be a dark alley for these men, who have no hopes for themselves or their progeny. While life has improved a little in the urban areas, things never change in the rural landscape.

 

Even in their death the misfortune of bondage does not end, for the low caste labourers are not allowed to be cremated in the community ground.

 

Another problem that confronts these families is they do not have toilets at their home and they have to visit the lands of their masters to relieve themselves.

 

A hint of trouble from these men and the landowners disallow their entire families to attend the nature’s call.

 

Saroj, who has been working as Programme Centre incharge in Phillaur, said that poor implementation of labour laws was one of the reasons that hapless labourers have nowhere to go. “The labour is bought and sold like vegetables and the government does not care a bit about their plight”, she added.

 

No doubt a deeper look onto the Punjab story tells the tale of state betrayal and societal torture upon thousands of hapless people living in the shadows in this land of five rivers.

Violence has become endemic in the state known for happy go lucky culture, there have been several instances of violence between the haves and the have-nots.

 

While the rich landowners want to maintain status quo, the lower caste labourers buoyed sometime by the riches from their community members abroad want the system to change, told Jai Singh.

 

Unless and until land reforms are initiated in Punjab things are never going to change, said Amrit Singh (name changed), a landless labourer from Ajnala. “We have lost hope in the system and our faith in society”, he said, adding he was waiting for the revolution as did his father and forefathers.

 

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