J. Balaji

NEW DELHI: The National Human Rights Commission has directed the Orissa Government to register an FIR and act against persons who illegally confined 17 persons in Puri district and extracted menial works from them under the pernicious local custom called “bartan”, a manifestation of the bonded labour system.

The Commission, which pulled up the District Collector of Puri, directed the State Government to take action against the officials who failed to stop this custom practised by the so-called upper castes who direct the victims to wash the feet of visitors to the families and remove plantain leaves with leftover food items for cleaning the place.

The NHRC was acting on a complaint filed by Puri’s Baghambar Patnaik alleging that 17 persons and many others were victims of “bartan”. Under this custom, the upper castes families in the village give an advance of a little quantity of paddy for each married male at a particular time of the year and in return that person, called “sewak”, has to render service, including menial jobs, to all the members of the family throughout the year without any remuneration, he said.

The Commission earlier turned down the District Collector’s inquiry report denying the existence of “bartan”. It gave two months’ time to the State authorities to submit the action taken report on its directive.

It observed that any custom which forces a person to wash the feet of another or to remove leftover food after a community feast is against human dignity and must be abandoned. The State Government has the duty to abolish such customs, it added. “There can be no doubt,” the Commission recorded, “that the practice of ‘bartan’ is a manifestation of the bonded labour system as defined in Section 2g of the Act” (Bonded Labour System Abolition Act).