The return of democracy in Pakistan last year has once again put feudal political elite firmly in charge of the nation's affairs. Both major parties, the PPP and the PML, are heavily dominated by the country's biggest landowners, who are reliability voted into power by their poor landless peasants making up the majority of the electorate in Pakistan.
British writer William Dalrymple has accurately described the politics in Pakistan as follows: "There is a fundamental flaw in Pakistan's political system. Democracy has never thrived here, at least in part because landowning remains almost the only social base from which politicians can emerge. In general, the educated middle class - which in India seized control in 1947, emasculating the power of its landowners - is in Pakistan still largely excluded from the political process. As a result, in many of the more backward parts of Pakistan the local feudal zamindar can expect his people to vote for his chosen candidate. Such loyalty can be enforced. Many of the biggest zamindars have private prisons and most have private armies."
The Pakistani landlord's "private prisons" came in sharp focus recently with the news of 170 peasants being held against their will by Sindhi landowners, in violation of the court orders.
Responding to questions about the situation during US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's recent visit, Luis CdeBaca, President Obama's ambassador-at-large to monitor and combat trafficking in persons, told Time magazine, "we are exploring ways we can help Pakistan to confront the scourge of captive workers, to deliver freedom for these workers and realize the promise of Pakistan's 1992 emancipation law."
In his recent column in the New York Times, Nicholas Kristoff argued that the feudal systems remains the biggest obstacle to reform in Pakistan. Addressing those who have not been to Pakistan, Kristoff explains that they "should know that in remote areas you periodically run into vast estates — comparable to medieval Europe — in which the landowner runs the town, perhaps operates a private prison in which enemies are placed, and sometimes pretty much enslaves local people through debt bondage, generation after generation. This feudal elite has migrated into politics, where it exerts huge influence. And just as the heartlessness of feudal and capitalist barons in the 19th century created space for Communists, so in Pakistan this same lack of compassion for ordinary people seems to create space for Islamic extremists. There are other answers, of course, such as education, civil society, and the lawyers’ movement. But I wonder if land reform wouldn’t be a big help."
There have been rare instances when media attention and public pressure have compelled the government to free haaris from private prisons. In April this year, a private TV channel GeoTV reported that police freed 14 people including 8 children and 4 women from the private prison of a landlord in Faiz Muhammad Brohi Goth in Gadap Town near Karachi.
Though Pakistan has been in the news lately for its continuing practice of slavery, it is not alone. Bonded labor in South Asia is considered the problem in modern slavery affecting millions of people. The UN believes 20 million people are enslaved worldwide, the majority of whom are in South Asia, according to a BBC report.
A recent report by US State Department for 2009 said that “India is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation.”
India is listed with 52 countries on the watch list of nations that have failed to meet the minimum standards against human trafficking but are making efforts to do so. The blacklisted countries are subject to US sanctions if they don’t make greater efforts to fight trafficking.
The Philippines, Cambodia, Bangladesh and Pakistan have recently been added to the U.S. “watch list” because of what the report calls a worsening trafficking record in those countries.
“This is modern slavery. A crime that spans the globe, providing ruthless employers with endless supply of people to abuse for financial gain,” Secretary Clinton said as she released the report.
For the first time, India, China, Russia, Sri Lanka and Egypt and other countries that have been on the on Tier 2 watch list for two years, face the prospect of being automatically moved to the Tier 3 blacklist next year without a presidential waiver if they fail improve their trafficking record, the State Department said.
A 2004 study by the International Labor Office (ILO) estimated that there are up to a million haari families in Sindh alone, the majority living in conditions of debt bondage, which the U.N. defines as modern-day slavery. Last fall, Pakistan's Daily Times newspaper quoted the labor minister of neighboring Punjab province as saying that landlords hold millions of forced laborers in "private prisons" across the country.
Amidst all the cries for democracy, independent judiciary, human rights and social justice in Pakistan, nothing has fundamentally changed during the last year under "democracy", except the worsening economy, much longer power outages and a growing sense of insecurity. Regardless of the party labels and promises, the feudal power continues to endure in the name of democracy. The choices remain narrow for Pakistanis: Choose between the military and the feudal class. There is no third choice as long as the middle class remains small and unable and unwilling to exert strong influence to bring about much-needed reforms. The only hope for real democracy and necessary social, political and economic reforms lies in continued robust growth of the middle class over an extended period of time of another decade or two. There are no guarantees that the current feudal rulers will permit that.
Here is a video about global South Asia's poverty and slavery:
India Not Combating Slavery
Bonded Labor in India, Nepal and Pakistan
Feudalism in Pakistan
Is Democracy Right For Pakistan?
Slavery in Pakistan
US State Department Report on Human Trafficking 2009
Feudal Power Dominates Pakistani Democracy
Here's an LA Times report on the vicious cycle of poverty in rural India:
India has long been plagued by unscrupulous moneylenders who exploit impoverished farmers. But with crops failing more frequently, farmers are left even more desperate and vulnerable.
Reporting from Jhansi, India - She stops for long stretches, lost in thought, trying to make sense of how she's been left half a person.
Sunita, 18, who requested that her family name not be used to preserve her chance of getting married, said her nightmare started in early 2007 after her father took a loan for her sister's wedding. The local moneylender charged 60% annual interest.
When the family was unable to make the exorbitant interest payments, she said, the moneylender forced himself on her, not once or twice but repeatedly over many months.
"I used to cry a lot and became a living corpse," she said.
Sunita's allegations, which the moneylender denies, cast a harsh light on widespread abuses in rural India, where a highly bureaucratic banking system, corruption and widespread illiteracy allow unethical people with extra income to exploit poor villagers, activists say.
But here in the Bundelkhand region in central India that is among the nation's more impoverished areas, the problem is exacerbated by climate change and environmental mismanagement, they say, suggesting that ecological degradation and global warming are changing human life in more ways than just elevated sea levels and melting glaciers.
"Before, a bad year would lead to a good year," said Bharat Dogra, a fellow at New Delhi's Institute of Social Sciences specializing in the Bundelkhand region. "Now climate change is giving us seven or eight bad years in a row, putting local people deeper and deeper in debt. I expect the situation will only get worse."
An estimated 200,000 Indian farmers have ended their lives since 1997, including many in this area, largely because of debt.
A 2007 study of 13 Bundelkhand villages found that up to 45% of farming families had forfeited their land, and in extreme cases some were forced into indentured servitude. Tractor companies, land mafia and bankers routinely collude, encouraging farmers to take loans they can't afford, a 2008 report by India's Supreme Court found, knowing they'll default and be forced to sell their land.
"While a few people borrow for social status or a desire to buy a new motorcycle, in most cases it's for sheer survival," Dogra said. "When they see their children starving after several years of crop failures, many feel they have no choice."
Recent amendments to a 1976 law in Uttar Pradesh state have increased the maximum punishment for unauthorized money-lending to three years in jail, up from six months, but many loan sharks are well-connected and elude prosecution. The law specifies that lenders must obtain a state license, but the requirements for obtaining it can be vague, a situation that critics say gives bureaucrats significant leeway to enact arbitrary rules and exact questionable fees.
"I take occasional loans when we're desperate," says Jhagdu, 50, a farmer in Barora, 60 miles south of Jhansi, sitting on his haunches with teeth stained red from chewing betel nut. "When there's no rain, like now, you can't repay for a year, so the amounts can double."
Here's a Reuters report on feudal excesses and case for land reform in Pakistan:
Dotted around Pakistan are vast estates run by feudal landlords who command enormous economic and political power, condemning their tenants to poverty, reform activists charge.
On some of these estates, debt bondage has forced 1.8 million people to work the land for no pay, generation after generation, according to the campaigning group Anti-Slavery International. On others, sharecropping systems are practised, under which landless tenants hand over between two-thirds and half of the crops they produce to the landowner.
Unlike other countries in the region, including India, Pakistan did not carry out land reforms after 1947, and attempts in the 1950s and 1970s to reduce the size of land holdings had limited impact.
"Land reform has not taken place because the lawmakers in many cases themselves have large land holdings and will never want to transfer ownership to tenants. There will be no land reform until [the] people are in control of governance," Mubashir Hasan, a former finance minister and social activist, told IRIN.
About 2 percent of households control more than 45 percent of the land area. Powerful farmers have also taken advantage of government subsidies in water and agriculture, and benefited from technological improvements which have boosted yields, according to the World Bank.
By 1977 the biggest estates had only surrendered about 520,000 hectares, and nearly 285,000 hectares had been redistributed among some 71,000 farmers. Around 3,529 landowners have 513,114 holdings of more than 40.5 hectares in irrigated areas, and 332,273 holdings of more than 40.5 hectares in non-irrigated areas, according to the government's annual Economic Survey.
"We manage to earn a little for ourselves by selling the surplus corn and wheat that we take from the land. It is hard work, but despite this we have not been able to escape poverty. None of my four sons is educated beyond the eighth grade. We needed their labour on the land," said Kareem Muhammad, a landless tenant on a farm near the town of Okara, about 110km south of Lahore.
In Punjab, both sharecropping and fixed-rent contracts - where a rent per acre farmed is paid to the landowner by tenants - are practised. In Sindh, about one third of the land falls under fixed-rent contracts and about two thirds of the land is sharecropped, government surveys show.
The sense of injustice created by the continued hold of feudal landlords and the poverty this gives rise to has been a key factor in rising social discontent - aided and abetted by militant groups.
"I am a landless farmer. Last year my teenage son was persuaded by members of an organization engaged in jihad [holy war] to come away with them. They told him it is better to wield a gun and learn to use it than eke out a miserable existence tilling land," Riazuddin Ahmed, from Vehari in southern Punjab, told IRIN.
"My son is only 17. He saw no hope ahead of him, and therefore went away with these people. His mother and I are distraught. But we believe he has gone to the northern areas and we have no means of finding him," he said.
Former finance minister Hassan blamed this on oppression and misery. "Today, governance has collapsed. Extremism has grown and weapons have proliferated," he said.
Farming contributes 21 percent to gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 44 percent of the workforce, according to the government's annual Economic Survey. Of the total land area of 80.4 million hectares, about 22 million are cultivated, according to official data. Nearly 65 percent of this cultivated area is in Punjab, about 25 percent in Sindh and 10 percent in the North West Frontier Province and Balochistan.
Here's the transcript of an NPR report on feudal power in Pakistan and how it enslaves people on the large feudal estates in Punjab:
LAURA LYNCH: The midday sun throws a harsh spotlight on weathered faces. Women crouch low, searching for, then plucking out barely ripe tomatoes. Every crease and crevice in their feet, their hands, even on their faces is dusted with dirt from the fields they farm. They work from dawn to dusk - and the landowner gets most of the income. Nearly two thirds of Pakistan's rural population are sharecroppers. One of the male workers, Abdul Aziz, says they all owe their livelihood to their boss - so they support the political party he supports. He has always voted for the Pakistan People's Party he says; the party of the late Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto and other wealthy landowners like her had always been able to count on the loyalty of those who toil for them in the fields. At her gracious home in Islamabad, Syma Khar traces her lineage - both familial and political - through the photographs she keeps in the cupboard.
LYNCH: Khar is a member of the provincial assembly of the Punjab - the largest province in Pakistan. She is also a member of one of Pakistan's most powerful families. The pictures are from the Khar family estate just outside the city of Multan. The sprawling property includes fisheries, mango orchards and sugarcane fields. Thousands of people work there - most are loyal to their masters. Syma's husband, his father, brothers, nieces and nephews have all turned that to their political advantage to gain office. The workers are by and large, poor, landless and uneducated. Pervez Iqbal Cheema of Pakistan's National Defence University says that's the way most feudals want to keep it.
PERVEZ IQBAL CHEEMA: A feudal, in order to maintain his influence, will be probably not very happy for extension of education or health facilities because as long as they have a minimum interaction with the outsiders then the chances of new ideas germinating or causing some trouble are relatively less.
LYNCH: That star power was evident when Benazir Bhutto staged her return from exile in Karachi in October of 2007. Though it was later marred by a suicide bomb attack, the Bhutto power base in rural Pakistan bussed thousands of loyal followers in to cheer her arrival and dance in the streets. Even after she died, Bhutto's political machine ensured her husband eventually became President. And her son, Bilawal, inherited the party leadership even though he's only 20 with no political experience. In a back alley off a busy road in Rawalpindi, boys are just starting a late afternoon game of cricket. Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, rights activist and professor of colonial history at Lahore University of Management Sciences, keeps an office a few floors up. Akhtar sees the staying power of the feudals - and gives credit to the military. It is Pakistan's other power centre - staging four coups in the country's 62 year history. Akhtar says the military, interested in holding onto its own sphere of influence, finds a willing partner in the feudal class.
KHAR: If they don't' keep that attitude then people will be doing daytime robberies because they are illiterate people. They will, you know, kidnap the daughters they will take away the children they will take away the properties, they will kill each other. So a boss has to be a boss. He has to have that sort of attitude.
LYNCH: As a farm worker empties her bucket of tomatoes into a crate there is no smile of satisfaction - the day's work is still far from over. There's little chance her life will change soon. Several land reform programs have failed to change rural life in Pakistan. And failed to loosen the grip of Pakistan's large landowners on the country's politics.
For some of the posters here, let me share with you what Sean-Paul Kelly, a traveler-blogger, thinks of India, based on the recent NY Times story on "India's Innovation Envy":
Indians, it seems, aren’t lacking in the hyper-patriotic, and India certainly doesn’t lack its boosters in the West. Alas, some folks are beginning to see the light:
"BANGALORE, India — In the United States and Europe, people worry that their well-paying, high-skill jobs will be, in a word, “Bangalored” — shipped off to India.
People here are also worried about the future. They fret that Bangalore, and India more broadly, will remain a low-cost satellite office of the West for the foreseeable future — more Scranton, Pa., in the American television series “The Office,” than Silicon Valley."
Stephen Roach of Morgan Stanley-Asia has called this wage arbitrage (Roach happens to be one of the few American economists that gets it right on India). And Americans are right to worry about this. It’s put downward pressure on services as varied as call-centers and tech support, to financial news reporting, X-ray and MRI interpretation and accounting. I would be especially worried if I were an accountant. But then again, many of the big firm accountants need not be worried, as their shilling game for Wall Street will protect them. For a time.
"Even as the rest of the world has come to admire, envy and fear India’s outsourcing business and its technological prowess, many Indians are disappointed that the country has not quickly moved up to more ambitious and lucrative work from answering phones or writing software. Why, they worry, hasn’t India produced a Google or an Apple?"
Wait a second. India does not have any technological prowess in the true sense of the word. After all, if they did, why would the Ambassador, a car model over fifty years old, made of the heaviest steel imaginable, and horribly inefficient be the best selling domestically produced car in India, still. The Nano notwithstanding.
"Innovation is hard to measure, but academics who study it say India has the potential to create trend-setting products but is not yet doing so. Indians are granted about half as many American patents for inventions as people and firms in Israel and China. The country’s corporate and government spending on research and development significantly lags behind that of other nations. And venture capitalists finance far fewer companies here than they do elsewhere."
Re-read that graph closely and you’ll begin to get an idea of the hurdles India faces. And hurdles it is doing nothing, absolutely nothing to overcome. Instead of using its domestic capital for something like infrastructure building, local elites continue to siphon it all off and live behind huge fenced in compounds paying dalits pitiful, barely life-sustaining wages.
Here are some excerpts from an Asia Times report about tax cheating by the rich and powerful feudal politicians in Pakistan:
A case in point is Sardar Farooq Legari, whose estates extend from the Punjab to the Pakhtunkhwa. In 1994-95, he reported "zero income" while he was still the sitting president of Pakistan. Imran Khan, leader of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (Pakistan's Justice Movement) shamed the entire landed class by revealing that a practicing lawyer, Khalid Ishaq, paid more in taxes in 1992-93 than all 273 members of the National Assembly combined - 85% of whom were large landholders.
This shaming, however, did not work on lawmakers who kept evading taxes. In 1994-95, celebrated journalist-writer M Ziauddin conducted a thorough investigation into the taxable farm income and tax-paying behavior of wealthy farmers. He found that all landlords in the country pitched in just chump change of 2 million rupees in taxes in 1996 against their annual income of 600 billion rupees. On this scale, Ziauddin concluded that the landowning classes had been evading taxes of 100 billion rupees a year.
This is a blatant case of tax theft, which has spawned its own vicious knock-offs, one of which is "black money" (that is, totally untaxed wealth). In 1996, an economist estimated that black money in Pakistan grew as large as to form 40% of GDP. If left alone, tax evasion in the above-ground economy or underground economy increases the budget deficit and forces governments to shift the tax burden to consumers or to increase money supply.
In either case, it is a whammy for the poor. In the 2008-09 budget, Pakistan has set itself on the course of widening the tax net. In terms of the tax-GDP ratio, the current budget features a relatively high ratio at 14%. The tax base also is on the rise. In 1994, it consisted of an overwhelming majority of the working middle class of 800,000 tax payers, who have now grown to more than 2 million.
The government, thus, can over the next 10 years raise $50 billion - $5 billion a year - to rein in poverty. At the current exchange rate, $5 billion comes to 345 billion rupees. Economist Shahid Hasan Siddiqi believes that Pakistan is undertaxed by 400 billion rupees a year. Its tax revenue should be 1.6 trillion rupees as against the projected 1.25 trillion rupees for 2008-09.
Here's an ET Op Ed on history of land rights and politics in Pakistan:
The extraction of rural surplus from the Indian subcontinent enabled the Mughals to fund empire building opulence and warfare through an increasingly sophisticated land administration system. Peasant revolts against this exploitation were identified as one of the reasons for the downfall of the Mughals. Under the historic mansabdari system, however, agrarian tillers were at least rooted to the land they cultivated since mansabdars appointed above them were state representatives designated to collect revenues from land, which essentially belonged to the empire — rather than to mansabdars themselves.
The British desire to fuel industrialisation in England through boosting cash cropping in its colonies led to experimentation with provision of private property rights in the subcontinent based on the presumption that this would incentivise productivity and investment in agriculture. Sidestepping the poor rural populace, the British preferred giving land rights to the upper peasantry. Moreover, the colonial government gave titles and land grants to ‘noblemen’ willing to recognise their authority and the British Raj also began using land for inducing military recruitment and breeding horses for the cavalry, under the ghora paal (horse breeding) scheme. Economic historians have identified this latter colonial policy of using land for military purposes as setting the stage for the growing influence of the military in the country’s political economy.
Unlike India, landlords with large landholdings dominated the Muslim League and continued to sabotage effective land reforms in the country. Over time, landholding interests not only pervaded the establishment but also acquired industrial interests. It is thus not uncommon for large landed Pakistani families to have family members in the national and provincial parliaments serving as senior bureaucrats and army officials, as well as owning sugar and cotton mills.
A political economy perspective further sheds light on broader configuration of production relations at both national and global levels. The IMF and the World Bank have actively sought to influence agricultural production processes and policies through liberalisation of the agricultural sector — in developing countries which receive their loans — in a bid to integrate them into a global trade regime.
March 10, 2013 Toronto Star
Here's a CNN report on slavery in the world:
Hong Kong (CNN) -- A new report claiming to be the most comprehensive look at global slavery says 30 million people are living as slaves around the world.
The Global Slavery Index, published by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation, lists India as the country with by far the most slaves, with an estimated nearly 14 million, followed by China (2.9 million) and Pakistan (2.1 million).
The top 10 countries on its list of shame accounted for more than three quarters of the 29.8 million people living in slavery, with Nigeria, Ethiopia, Russia, Thailand, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar and Bangladesh completing the list.
In terms of countries with the highest of proportion of slaves, Mauritania in West Africa topped the table, with about 4% of its 3.4 million people enslaved, followed by Haiti, Pakistan, India and Nepal.
In some of the worst-hit countries, the report said, the affected parties were citizens ensnared in endemic, culturally-sanctioned forms of slavery -- "the chattel slavery of the Haratins in Mauritania, the exploitation of children through the restavek practice in Haiti, the cultural and economic practices of both caste and debt bondage in India and Pakistan, and the exploitation of children through vidomegon in Benin."
In other examples, including Nepal, Gabon and Moldova, it was migrants who were most vulnerable to exploitation. In many examples, noted the report, child and forced marriage was prevalent and child protection practices weak.
It noted that in India, the country with the most slaves, the risk of enslavement varies markedly from state to state.
The Middle East and North Africa, it said, showed the highest measured level of discrimination against women, with one result being a high level of forced and child marriages within the region, and widespread exploitation of trafficked women as domestic workers and prostitutes. Vulnerable male migrants also frequently found themselves in exploitative working conditions.
India tops the list in world slavery. Pakistan no 3 on the list. Democracy has not helped the poor living under feudal rule in South Asia.
#PMLN Senator Sardar Yaqoob Nasr: "Poor are born to serve the rich... God made people rich or poor" http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/pakistan-politician-comment-poor-serve-rich/1/749331.html … via @indiatoday
WHO SAID WHAT
"The poor of this country will never get to decide their own fate," Haidar said.
To this, Nasar remarked that if everyone were to become wealthy, there would be no one to grow wheat or to work as labourers.
"This is a system created by God and He has made some people rich and others poor and we should not interfere in this system," he said.
Haider countered that socio-economic classes were man-made and God had nothing to do with it.
Another Senator, Mohammad Usman Khan Kakar, too said that God created all people as equal and that the poor were not meant to serve the rich.
But Nasar could not be convinced and said: "Once in China all people were considered equal, which did not work out well.
"Those who cannot get an education and cannot earn more have no right to live the life of a bureaucrat," he said.
No work, new debt: #coronavirus creates perfect storm for #slavery in #India. #Australian charity Walk Free Foundation has put the number of bonded laborers in #India at 8 million, highest in the world, in its 2018 Global Slavery Index. #Lockdown #Modi http://news.trust.org/item/20200413065535-edq5n/
By Anuradha Nagaraj and Roli Srivastava
CHENNAI/MUMBAI, India, April 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - When the coronavirus outbreak brought India to a halt last month, Bhagwan Das lost his only income as a construction worker in Delhi and embarked on a three-day trek back to his village.
Then the loan shark came knocking.
Unable to maintain repayments on the 60,000 rupee ($787) loan he took out in 2017 for his daughter's wedding, Das had no choice but to offer his son's labour to service the rising debt.
"My son works on the money lender's farmland now. He gives him food, but no wages," the 55-year-old told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from central Madhya Pradesh state.
"We have to repay a loan and will do whatever work he gives us," added Das, who has yet to even clear the loan's interest.
A coronavirus lockdown - due to end on Tuesday but set to be extended - has left hundreds of millions of informal workers without cash or food, and fearful that lacking paperwork or a bank account will hinder their access to government assistance
Coronavirus: our latest stories
Many families will instead resort to taking out loans at high interest rates in order to survive, while others will fall deeper into debt and end up trapped in bonded labour - India's most prevalent form of modern slavery - according to activists.
India identified at least 135,000 bonded workers in its 2011 census, while the Australian charity Walk Free Foundation put the number at eight million in its 2018 Global Slavery Index.
"The only capital they (internal migrant workers) have is their labour and the only people they know how to negotiate their livelihood with is the middleman," said Rudra Pattanaik, chairperson for the migrant labourer welfare charity PARDA.
"Cash flow in a migrant worker's home rotates around loans and working to repay them and that process has been completely derailed," he added. "The money lenders and middlemen are definitely going to recover the money, by hook or by crook."
"It is a very risky time ... this crisis will only deepen."
FEARS OF VIOLENCE
In a survey of about 3,200 informal workers who were walking home last week from cities to their villages, nearly a third had loans to repay - mainly to money lenders from their communities.
Almost half of those who were in debt said they feared their inability to service the loans could see them subjected to some form of violence, according to the survey by charity Jan Sahas.
In Odisha, charities are using short videos inspired by the animated film "Madagascar" to inform villagers about coronavirus and warn them against taking out loans from local money lenders at high interest rates - a practice known to fuel slave labour.
The Indian government says at least 300,000 people have been pulled out of slavery since 1976, and it has committed to rescue and rehabilitate more than 10 million bonded laborers by 2030.
Yet such efforts could be set back as people turn to the most convenient source of cash - lenders their families have known for generations - despite aid promised by the government for the country's poorest, according to labour rights activists.
"Money lenders may increase interest rates ... distress migration will increase," said Binoy Peter, executive director of Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development, a non-profit.
"It is going to be a catastrophe."
A labour ministry official, who declined to be identified as he was not authorised to speak to the media, said government guidelines for employers to not deduct wages or terminate employment should prevent workers needing to take out loans.
Flooding has devastated Pakistan – and Britain’s imperial legacy has made it worse
Take the story of Bashir Dasti, a tenant farmer I met a few years ago while doing fieldwork in south Punjab. Two weeks ago, his mud house was destroyed by flooding, as was the land he rented, the cotton he cultivated and the cattle he had spent years rearing. Many other farmers and agricultural labourers I got to know in Rajanpur, now a centre of the flooding, have also lost their homes and livelihoods. The Pakistan government has tasked local officials – patwaris – with adminstering relief for flood victims, yet when Bashir approached one, they tried to extort him: he was told that he would only be added to the list if he paid 10,000 Pakistani rupees (roughly £40). Bashir earns a meagre income from farming and pays exorbitant rent to his landlord, an aristocrat from a Baloch tribe called Leghari. He couldn’t pay that kind of money.
Back in the 19th century, the British Raj built alliances with local elites in order to secure its rule. In Rajanpur, Bashir’s district, this was particularly important – many tribal chiefs, including the Legharis, were armed and hostile. So in exchange for their loyalty, the Raj turned representative chiefs into unrepresentative aristocrats, granting them magisterial powers, a paramilitary apparatus and immense landed estates (jagirs) on newly irrigated land. The relationship set off a mutually beneficial pillaging of the region, whereby the British Raj and the now-landed aristocrats siphoned off rents, land revenues, and export cash cops like indigo, opium and cotton, all at the expense of previously pastoral tribesmen now forced to settle and toil as local farmers. Combined with expanding canal irrigation, tribesmen’s coerced settlement and exploitation – the British viewed seasonally migrating tribes as a security threat – left them further exposed to floods.
Because of this imperial patronage, as well as rising rents due to growing competition for tenancies with the decline of pastoral livelihoods, inequalities between landlords and peasants rose dramatically over the 19th and 20th centuries. While peasants lived in mud houses vulnerable to flooding – archives report several “great floods” affecting the south Punjab region – their chief landlords built lavish, well-fortified housing compounds on immense estates. By the 1920s, the highest-ranking Leghari aristocrat owned about 114,000 acres of land.
Young girls being sold in #India to repay #debt, says #humanrights body. #Indians living in many rural areas in India often have to borrow money from fellow villagers when a family member falls seriously ill and needs medical treatment. #poverty #slavery https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/oct/28/young-girls-sold-india-repay-loans-human-rights?CMP=share_btn_tw
Young girls in the northern Indian state of Rajasthan are being sold as “repayment” for loans their parents cannot afford, the national body that protects human rights has said.
The National Human Rights Commission has issued a notice to the state government demanding a police inquiry and answers within a month to what it called an “abominable” practice.
People living in many rural areas in India often have to borrow money from fellow villagers when a family member falls seriously ill and needs medical treatment.
Local media reports say that in half a dozen districts around Bhilwara, if a family cannot repay a loan, the aggrieved creditor has complained to the “caste panchayats” or caste councils.
By way of “settlement”, the councils have ordered the family to hand over their daughter – sometimes more than one depending on the size of the loan – so that the creditor can sell her to a trafficker to recoup his money.
In its notice, the commission said that if the family refuses to sell their daughter, “their mothers are subjected to rape on the diktats of caste panchayats for the settlement of disputes”.
Among the cases highlighted by the commission is that of a man who borrowed 1.5m rupees (£15,800) from a neighbour who was forced by the panchayat to sell his sister and 12-year-old daughter to settle the debt.
In another, a man who borrowed 600,000 rupees (£6,300) when his wife fell ill and needed hospital treatment was unable to repay it. The panchayat compelled him to hand over his young daughter to the creditor, who later sold her to a trafficker in Agra. From there, “she was sold three times and became pregnant four times”, the commission said.
The commission has sent an official to Rajasthan to investigate the cases. The Bhilwara district collector, Ashish Modi, said the crimes were the first of their kind. “They are total illegal. The police are investigating and we will make sure the victims get justice and the guilty are punished,” Modi said.
Panchayats are often a profoundly regressive force in rural India, acting as kangaroo courts. They have ordered so-called honour killings of couples who have defied tradition by marrying into a different caste or faith or ordered brutal punishments for couples suspected of adultery.
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