IN a seminar held in Nawabshah recently, the Sindh Human Rights Commission and Hari Welfare Association reiterated a common and long-held complaint about the state of human rights and quality of life in the province: for all its progressive legislation, Sindh suffers due to a lack of implementation of these laws. This yawning chasm in governance is experienced most keenly in rural areas, where basic labour rights — such as a minimum wage, safe working conditions and guaranteed paid leave — for workers and peasants remain elusive. Despite the passage of the Sindh Women Agriculture Workers Act in December 2019 (which was hailed at the time as a milestone for rural women workers) there is no evidence to suggest that any measures have been taken to implement it. Nor has there been any substantive change to on-ground conditions since the Sindh High Court’s landmark judgement, also in 2019, upholding the prohibition of unpaid work in the Sindh Tenancy Act by striking down an amendment to omit it, and ruling that cases would fall under the jurisdiction of the judiciary rather than the executive. Similarly, the Sindh Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 2015, is little more than a paper tiger as this form of modern-day slavery is still considerably prevalent in the region.

Through a combination of indifference and collusion, the provincial government and other arms of the state apparatus have abetted the landed elite’s stiff resistance to formalisation and documentation of the rural workforce. Breaking this cycle of human suffering requires moving beyond progressive rhetoric and honouring our commitments to protect millions of vulnerable citizens. Only a genuine engagement with these stakeholder groups, including formal mechanisms to ensure implementation, reporting and reviews to identify gaps and shortcomings can begin to redress decades of cruelty. The Sindh government must engage positively with human rights bodies and peasants groups, and send a clear signal that no one, no matter how powerful or influential, can deprive any individual of their rights.

Published in Dawn, April 18th, 2021

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