Orissa Government accepts NHRC recommendation; abolishes 'bartan' system of bonded labour


New Delhi, March 8th, 2011
With the intervention of the National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, and relentless efforts of the petitioner, Mr. Baghambar Pattanaik, since the year 2006, finally, the Government of Orissa issued a notification on the 17th February, 2011 abolishing the practice of extracting work from the barbers and the washer men by the 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 State Government through its Panchayati Raj Department has impressed upon all the District Collectors to instruct the field functionaries to ensure that such an evil practice is discouraged at all costs by taking stringent action against the culprits under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976.
The notification records that "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. Some have gone to the extent of forcing the barbers to wash the feet of guests during social ceremonies like marriage etc. The barbers are sometimes forced to lift leaf plates containing leftovers at the end of ceremonial feasts."
During the course of the proceedings in the matter under case no.13/18/2006-07 register on a complaint by Mr. Baghambar Pattanaik, linking several complaints of people working under 'bartan', the Commission described this practice as a bonded labour within the definition of 'bonded debt' and 'bonded labour' as defined under Section 2(d), 2(e) and 2(g) of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition), Act, 1976. It also held the stand taken by the Panchayati Raj, Department of the Government of Orissa in its letter number 3364 dated the 8th April, 2004 as erroneous in saying that the barbers and washer men working in rural areas cannot be identified as bonded labour.
The Commission in its recent camp sitting in Orissa on the 18th January, 2011 again asked the State Authorities to stop 'bartan' system and take action against those who failed to stop this illegal practice or abetted it.
Mr. Pattanaik in his complaint to the Commission had alleged that under the custom of '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 and in return, that person called 'sewak' had to render services to all the members of the family including the relatives and guests during social ceremonies through out the year without any other remuneration. The Commission found the enquiry report furnished by the Collector of Puri on the issue factually incorrect that no 'bartan' system existed in the District.
The Commission also observed that "If the pledge of egalitarian society made in the Constitution of India 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 of the Constitution."

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