OHRC Steps In to Defend Dispossessed Barber Community in Land Restoration Litigation

Bhubaneswar: The Odisha Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has taken the unusual step of becoming an intervener in a civil litigation case involving the restoration of land to the barber community. The community had been subjected to the customary practice of providing services to dominant caste families in exchange for meagre compensation.

The OHRC had previously directed the state authorities to restore the community’s possession of their houses and provide proper rehabilitation under the Bonded Labour System Abolition Act, 1976. However, due to ongoing civil litigations, the order could not be implemented.

The barber community in Manapur village, Puri district, had been socially ostracized and forcibly evicted from the land they had occupied for generations. They were released from bonded labour under the Bonded Labour Abolition Act but refused to continue serving the villagers under the ‘Bartan Scheme.’ As a result, they faced atrocities and were driven out of their ancestral homes, which were also damaged.

This troubling situation has unfolded over more than a decade, with human rights activist Baghambar Patnaik initially championing the cause in 2011. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) subsequently urged the Odisha government to abolish the customary ‘Bartan scheme’ practice, leading to a government notification in 2011 to discourage such practices and take stringent action against the culprits under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976.

However, the villagers filed a case in 2020 seeking the permanent eviction of the barbers, which has since been litigated in various courts. The matter is currently being adjudicated in the court of the Puri district judge, leaving the barber community without their ancestral homes.

Considering the OHRC’s mandate to proactively protect human rights, the Commission has decided to intervene in the ongoing proceedings to represent and defend the barber community. The OHRC believes this is a suitable case for its intervention, despite the victims also being defendants, as it aligns with the interest of human rights. The Commission has scheduled further hearings for July 24 and will appoint a counsel to represent them in the case.

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