A letter written by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to the Punjab government in March reportedly warns the state that the migrant workers from UP and Bihar “are forced to work as bonded labourers in border villages of the state” and that they are “often given drugs affecting their physical and mental condition”. The letter has drawn sharp reactions from farmer leaders as well as politicians.
Media reports quoting the “confidential letter” to the Punjab Chief Secretary and Director General of Police said the Border Security Force had apprehended 58 Indian nationals from the border areas of Gurdaspur, Amritsar, Ferozepur and Abohar in Punjab in the years 2019 and 2020.
“During the course of questioning it emerged that most of them were either mentally challenged or were in feeble state of mind and have been working as bonded labourers with farmers in the border villages of Punjab. The persons apprehended belong to a poor family background and hail from remote areas of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh,’’ said the letter.
“For making them work for long hours in fields these labourers are often given drugs which adversely affect their physical and mental condition,’’ said the letter.
The letter drew flak from farm leaders protesting against the Centre’s new agriculture laws. Jagmohan Singh, general secretary of BKU Dakaunda and member of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), accused the Centre of trying to “malign the image of farmers”.
“After calling us Khalistani and terrorists, the government is playing yet another communal card. The MHA report refers to BSF’s action in 2019-20. It is surprising that they sat on this report and came out with the letter when the farmers’ agitation is at its peak.”
Punjab government officials have acknowledged the receipt of the letter. “We have asked the deputy commissioners to investigate and submit a report. We will take action as per law,” a Punjab government official said.
Surjit Singh Bhura, vice president of Punjab Border Kisan Welfare Society, described the allegations as baseless. “We have not come across any cases involving farmers forcing the labourers into bonded labour or labourers being given drugs. The narcotics come from Pakistan,” he said.
The opposition Shiromani Akali Dal termed the MHA missive as a ridiculous assumption aimed at defaming the farmers of the state. Former party MP Prof Prem Singh Chandumajra said the Home Ministry was making illogical conclusions.