Skip to main content

Bonded labour a thing of past? Gujarat rural workers are now more aware: Ex-official

 

By Rajiv Shah 
This is sort of rejoinder to my previous story. I was a little surprised on receiving a phone call from a former government official, who retired in 2015, Bipin Bhatt, whom I have known as one of the more socially conscious senior babus of Gujarat. A non-IAS bureaucrat, I first interacted him during my Gandhinagar days, when I used to cover Gujarat Sachivalaya for the Times of India. At that time he was Gujarat’s rural labour commissioner, a post which he occupied between 2004 and 2007. Thereafter I have been in touch with him.
Bhatt phoned me up objecting to a report I had penned in Counterview (“Debt bondage, forced labour, sexual abuse in Gujarat's Bt cottonseed farms: Dutch study”) based on a study published by a Dutch NGO, Arisa, with the active help of the Ahmedabad-based labour rights group Centre for Labour Research and Action (CLRA), which has carried out considerable work among migrant workers, especially those who are from Gujarat’s eastern tribal belt.
Apparently, Bhatt phoned up realising that I had still not seen his comment on my Counterview report which he had sent to me on Telegram. He was right. I had not seen his objection, which was in the following words, “I have strong reservation against such surveys and reports. I have served as rural labour commissioner from 2004 to 2007. Apart from government duty, I am an activist.”
Especially objecting to the part of the report which said advance offered to wage sharecroppers in North Gujarat leads to their bondage type situation in Bt cottonseed farms, Bhatt commented, “Such surveys do not show the correct picture. The advance system does not provide labourers all the time. They take advance and may not turn up. They always ask money for daily requirements.”
He concluded by stating, “The bonded system existed and has almost vanished now. It had sexual angle, too”, even as seeking the original study from me in order to go into “more details”. I forwarded the report to him.
Be that as it may, talking to me on phone he told me that his experience both as former rural labour commissioner and as a farmer who has a 62 bigha farm (jointly owned by family) between Malpur and Modasa suggests things are “not as simple as what the study appears to make out.”
The farm which he owns, situated in Aravalli district, is regionally in the same area where the Arisa study has been done – Banaskantha and Sabarkantha districts of North Gujarat, he told me. “I know the whole region very well, have travelled to many villages. It seems the surveyors failed to cross check with other workers or villagers, and did not investigate enough”, he underlined.
According to him, labourers, including those he has been hiring for his farm, where he has been growing commercially usable trees to be sold after a few years’ duration “because it’s a barren land”, suggests that they do not turn up to work without advance. “Even if they take advance, they would run away in case they get a better offer from someone else. Surely, they cannot be kept in bondage even if they are indebted, as your report seeks to suggest”, Bhatt said.
City dwellers who do such types of surveys do not appear to understand rural realities. They have little idea of how things have changed
He continued, “Not only have the rural workers learned to bargain for higher wages, they wouldn’t work for more than the time for which they are hired, such is the awareness. They calculate every penny. Once eight hours are over, whether you like it not, they will just leave the field after demanding wages for the day. In fact, this is true of domestic workers hired in the rural areas as well. Even women workers refuse to work more than the time for which they are hired.”
Bhatt further said, “City dwellers who do such type of studies do not appear to understand rural realities well. They have little or no idea about how things have changed in villages. Indeed, rural workers, without exception, have become very aware, more than we think they are. I know one city dweller activist, who hasn’t seen a maize field. This person had just seen corn in a city market.”
Notably, the former government official acquired fame after a newly constructed locality was named after him – Bipin Bhatt Nagar – in Bhuj following the devastating January 26, 2001 Kutch earthquake, after which he is said to have done seminal work in rehabilitating those who had to be displaced because of the massive destruction that had taken place.
A local dailies Kutch Mitra and Divya Bhaskar (Bhuj edition) even today remember him, he tells me, forwarding me cuttings. Ironically, soon after the locals named the Bhuj locality after him, Bhatt was summarily transferred. A Gujarat Administrative Service (GAS) cadre, he was never promoted to IAS, though he told me, several of his batchmates were. “They are still working in government after retirement. But I have no regrets.”
So, what does Bhatt do today? He claimed, he works with tens of NGOs. “You can look up my Facebook timeline for more details”, he insisted, which I did. Indeed, I realised that I have long been his Facebook friend, though I admit, I don't see the social media very frequently – one reason I miss  what all he regularly posts about his claimed interactions with NGOs, especially in North Gujarat. Most of his Facebook friends are well-known longtime Gujarat activists.

Comments

TRENDING

Eco Ganesha made from water hyacythns, a most noxious invasive aquatic weed

Elsie Gabriel, founder, Young Environmentalists Programme Trust, and national coordinator, Oceans Climate Reality Project India, has come up with Eco Ganesha, made from recycled water hyacinths and silt from Powai Lake. She presented it to Mumbai Mayor Kishori Pednekar on September 7 at Powai lake:

Diaspora protest as Biden failed to publicly address persecution of minorities in India

As Modi addressed UN, human rights groups decried “monstrosity” of persecution of Muslims, Christians, Dalits, and other minorities in India. Demonstrators gathered outside UN to protest fascism, hate campaigns, weaponized rape, apartheid, lynchings, unlawful arrests, attacks on the media, and other abuses in India: A report distributed by the diaspora group Hindus for Human Rights: *** While observers said it was “shameful” that President Biden failed to publicly address widespread persecution of religious minorities in India when he met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 24, more than 100 members of interfaith and human rights groups spoke out as Modi addressed the United Nations General Assembly. Speakers condemned the egregious human rights violations and murders of religious minorities in India under a government that openly supports Hindu supremacy. The rally was sponsored by 21 organizations, including Ambedkar International Center, Ambedkar King S

In the land of the Buddha, why are there so few Buddhists? Did they convert to Islam?

Sonali Ranade, a trader and columnist, who is a prolific tweeter , in a recent blog "How did India’s Buddhists disappear? In the land of the Buddha, why are there so few Buddhists?" suggests that most of the Muslims who converted to Islam in South Asia were Buddhists and they did it mostly out of self-volition. Read on: *** It wasn’t until college, that it dawned on me that I had never met a Buddhist in my life. I could count quite a few Jains [hawt property for Gujju girls] at college, Muslims a plenty; the Navy, on whose bases I grew up, was chockfull of Sikhs; many Christians at school including a English literature teacher who I think was a recreant Pope in hiding; and not to forget my bestie, a blue-blood Parsi, whacky as they come, [she masquerades as an architect these days, and I always wonder why her buildings don’t collapse laughing at her colorful Hindi]; but no Buddhists. Puzzled, I asked the Pater, usually my go-to walking encyclopedia, but he was stumped. Or a

Post-Stalin Netaji advised Soviets, had facial surgery, met Lal Bhadur in Tashkent!

In an curious Facebook post "What happened to Netaji?", former editor of the Times of India, Ahmedabad, Kingshuk Nag, who later took over the Hyderabad edition of TOI as editor, has asserted that not only did Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose didn't die in a plane crash, he went to the Soviet Union, where he served as adviser of the Soviet leaders during the post-Stalin phase. One who has authored a Netaji book , he makes another astonishing "revelation": that Netaji, it is believed, had undergone face surgery "to change his appearance", and is "supposed to have met Indian PM Lal Bahadur Shastri when he went to Tashkent in 1966." Was Netaji so meek? One doesn't know... Anyway, read the FB post : *** Today is purportedly the day that Netaji died in an air crash in Taiwan in 1945. An elaborate theory of his death and the fact that his ashes were stored in Renkoji temple was created. By all accounts this is fiction. Netaji disappeared into Soviet

Critique of Hindutva does not constitute an attack on Hinduism, nor is it Hinduphobia

Organised with the active support of Indian diaspora in US, a series of virtual conferences, Dismantling Global Hindutva, have been held in order to "analyze and educate" the public as to how Hindutva is destroying India, undermining syncretic nature of Hinduism and the country's secular and democratic traditions.

Jinnah's claim: He never wanted Pakistan, wished if he could return to Bombay

In an account of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, termed "amazing but true", Ramkrishna Dalmia reveals Jinnah’s claimed love for Indian heritage and his beloved city Bombay (now Mumbai). Read it to comprehend a different aspect of his life... The account first appeared on Facebook timeline of Christi A Ali, and has been shared by many. *** “Look here, I never wanted Pakistan! It was forced upon me by Sardar Patel. And now they want me to eat the humble pie and raise my hands in defeat.” Jinnah to his closest friend Ramkrishna Dalmia to whom he (Jinnah) sold his marvelous Delhi house for Rs.3 lacs before partition. Jinnah chose his friend Ramkrishna Dalmia over others, a Jain, no-onion; no-garlic; a sprinkler of Ganga jal if a Muslim entered the home type of Hindu. The house was later sold to the Dutch Embassy as Nehru had issues with Mr.Dalmia. Nehru ensured that Mr.Dalmia would later be jailed. Jinnah never wanted Pakistan and even accepted Cabinet Mission Plan in July, 1946 to form

An international phenomenon, crackdown on media now part of Ukrainian policy

An article released by the Independent Media Institute points to how Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is using the ‘Kremlin excuse’ to ban media that doesn’t always agree with him. Authored by David C Speedie , the article has been produced by Globetrotter in partnership with the American Committee for US-Russia Accord : *** On the eve of his meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden on September 1, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky pulled the plug on the opposition news outlet Strana.ua and imposed sanctions on its editor-in-chief . This is not the first time Zelensky has cracked down on opposition media. Earlier this year Zelenksy banned three of his country’s television news stations—NewsOne, 112 and ZIK—accusing them of peddling “Kremlin-funded propaganda.” A veteran of the broadcast media himself [he was previously a comedian], Zelensky’s action may perhaps be seen at first glance as largely symbolic. It is, in fact, both inflammatory and short-sighted. First, it should

What caused Kandhamal violence in 2007-08? Expert, Dalit leader react to new docu-film

Well-known film maker KP Sasi has released a new 95-minute documentary  "Voices From the Ruins - Kandhamal In Search of Justice", which seeks to graphically describe how in Kandhamal district of Orissa, mainly inhabited by Adivasis and Dalits, among them a large population are Christians, witnessed its biggest violence on the Adivasi Christians and Dalit Christians in 2008. Based on interviews with the survivors of Kandhamal violence, who are still struggling against the improper compensation, improper rehabilitation and improper justice delivery systems, the film brings out the concerns of the survivors, through their own voices as well concerned sections, analysing the historical roots of violence, the impact of violence on various sections of the communities and the struggle for justice by the survivors of Kandhamal violence. Released on the anniversary of the violence (August 28), while Sasi has sought the documentary, already available on YouTube, widest circulation thr

Forthcoming book explodes Western myth: Personal qualities are biologically inherited

Jonathan Latham, PhD, Executive Director, The Bioscience Resource Project, New York, has said in an email alert via JanVikalp that his forthcoming book about genetics and genetic determinism, provisionally titled "The Myth of The Master Molecule: DNA and the Social Order" criticises the notion that personal qualities are biologically inherited: *** The contention of the book is that the key organising principle of Western thought is the seemingly innocuous and seemingly simple idea that our personal qualities are biologically inherited. That is, our character derives from our ancestors rather than being an always-adapting product of our own experiences, decisions, and education. The book makes the case, first, that genetic determinism is a scientific fallacy. Organisms are self-organised systems and therefore are not genetically determined. Second, the explanation for the myth, which predates Mesopotamian cities of 6,000 years ago, is its utility. Genetic determinism rationa

UN Food Systems Summit paved the way for greater control of big corporations

In a sharp critique of the  UN Food Systems Summit, a statement released by the People's Coalition on Food Sovereignty, a global network of NGOs, has accused UN meet of being steered by big corporations, even as the Global South was pushed back. *** The Global People’s Summit (GPS) on Food Systems slammed the recently concluded UN Food Systems Summit (UN FSS) for paving the way for greater control of big corporations over global food systems and misleading the people through corporate-led false solutions to hunger and climate change. “It was just as we expected. While branding itself as the ‘People’s Summit’ and even the ‘Solutions Summit,’ the UN FSS did not listen to the voices of marginalized rural peoples, nor forward real solutions to the food, biodiversity and climate crises. Instead, it let powerful nations and big corporations play an even bigger role in determining food and agricultural policies. The UN has finally made it clear what ‘multilateralism’ is all about—paying l