The system of contract labour is quite common in Punjab. Hunger compels the poor to accept voluntary servitude. What this effectively amounts to is bondage: wanton exploitation including the denial of basic rights and due wages. Mitthu Singh, a bonded labourer from Bhagta village in Bhatinda district of Punjab, is one such victim.
Mitthu worked for three years on the fields of Jaswinder Singh, a landlord from the same village. In 2009, he decided to quit. “Jaswinder started creating trouble,” said Mitthu. “Angered by my decision, he expropriated the land I had bought with my meagre savings. He also set the house I had built on that land for my family of three, on fire”.
The incident was, thankfully, taken note of by the National Human Rights Commission. An enquiry followed and declared Mitthu the rightful owner.
That, however, did not end his travails. In September 2013, Jaswinder attacked Mitthu’s family again. When the police finally decided to register a case, it charged both parties of attacking each other over a land dispute.