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INDIA: Entire village community starving to death, South Dinajpur, West Bengal

MASUM has received reports that for many years, villagers in Anahar have been subjected to extreme conditions of poverty and starvation, leading to many deaths. The village has already been reduced to 28 families and 15 more residents are dangerously close to death. Local and state authorities have thus far taken no action in providing assistance, programmes, or funding in alleviating the situation.

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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

10 March 2005

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HA-03-2005: INDIA: Entire village community starving to death, South Dinajpur, West Bengal

INDIA: Starvation death; government inaction and neglect
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) in West Bengal, India, that people in the South Dinajpur district are dying of starvation while the government authorities have not taken any effective action to stop the deaths. It is reported that starvation has been a lengthy concern for these villagers, and even after several years of suffering the situation has not improved.

The AHRC urges you to write to the concerned authorities, including the Chief Minister of West Bengal, and call on them to take the necessary action to stop any further deaths from occurring, and to implement long term plans to address the food and water crisis there.

Urgent Appeals Desk -- Hunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
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DETAILED INFORMATION:

Location: Anahar village, South Dinajpur, West Bengal, India
Persons affected:
All 28 families residing in the village, 15 people whose conditions are serious. The victims include:
1. Achhiya Bibi and her husband, Setu Molla. One child of theirs died of starvation, another is seriously malnourished.
2. Nurul Kaviraj
3. Dukhu Lohar, Krishna Lohar, Siddique Lohar
4. Jamira Bewa, Tuli Bewa, Khatun Bewa
Last reported deaths: Three children in recent weeks (deaths ongoing)

MASUM has received reports that for many years, villagers in Anahar have been subjected to extreme conditions of poverty and starvation, leading to many deaths. The village has already been reduced to 28 families and 15 more residents are dangerously close to death. Local and state authorities have thus far taken no action in providing assistance, programmes, or funding in alleviating the situation.

Residents of Anahar are Muslim and considered to be a part of marginalized society. They are poor and with the shortage of food, have had to sell their few possessions and mortgage their property to buy sustenance for their families. At present, many villagers have been reduced to eating leaves and roots, with little or no nutritious value, from trees in order to fill their stomachs. As a result, those who are note starving are riddled with dysentery, parasites, and liver-related illnesses.

Children have also been heavily affected by the lack of food. In recent weeks, three children have been reported dead because of starvation. More than thirty children are suffering from diarrhea, worm infestations, beriberi, rickets, and tuberculosis, while several others are nearing death. It is not uncommon for parents to have lost at least one child to starvation or related illnesses.

Residents Achhiya Bibi and her husband Setu Molla, both labourers by profession, have already lost one child due to starvation. As jobs are unavailable, the family has been unemployed since May 2004 and cannot even remember the last time they could afford to eat rice. Bibi and her husband scrounge for whatever food they can manage but fear that their son may be following in his sibling's footsteps; Bibi's son is sick with stomach ailments brought on by severe hunger and malnourishment. Another villager, Khatan Bewu, also witnessed one child die from eating inedible objects.

It has also been reported that along with food, electricity and water are also lacking in the village. To provide drinking water for families, a 3-acre pond was dug out by residents in the locality. However, access to this pond has been denied by local police and authorities, led by the Communist Party of India, citing Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code (Cr. P.C.). Section 144 of the Cr. P.C. allows t1the district magistrate to mandate that any person abstain from a district for up to sixty days if the official believes this action will prevent injury, harm or danger to the health and well-being of residents at large. Here it is believed that locals were prevented from using the pond as it could also be a fish source.

Government negligence is regarded as primarily responsible for the current situation in Anahar. Upon investigating the matter, it is apparent that villagers in Anahar are living in abject poverty. Food, water, electricity and sanitation systems are nonexistent. The residents are malnourished, unhygienic, and stricken with disease. Even with these appalling conditions however, the villagers are not enrolled in the Below Poverty Line Scheme. Further, they have not been included in the Government of India's Arnapurna & Arntyodaya Yojana Scheme for poverty alleviation and village development.

Mr. Romit Mootsuddi, the District Magistrate of South Dinajpur, agreed to investigate the situation in Anahar. He stated that some money would be provided to the Harsura Gram Panchayet in order to improve the living standards in the village. He also instructed the Block Development Officer responsible for village development in the area to submit a detailed report on this matter. As of now, Mr. Pijush Kanti Das, the BO in charge of the report is unavailable for comment.

Ms. Subala Barman, the Panchayet Pradhan (head of village council) of Harsura Gram Panchayet stated that the district and local administration appear to have collapsed; both are not willing to take responsibility for these inhuman conditions. She also alleged that the money meant for developing the village has neither been allocated nor spent.

MASUM has further contacted Mr. Anisur Rahaman, President of the communist led Tapan Panchayet Samity (the second tier of local government). Mr. Rahaman has denied the news of starvation deaths in Anahar, although he did admit that the poverty level was extraordinarily high. He said that while the government was doing its best at addressing the poverty levels, funding was insufficient to issue more Below Poverty Level Cards (PBL) to the villagers. He also acknowledged that a heath crisis does exist in Anahar, where only one primary health center, with 12 beds, exists. According to Rahaman, sometimes more than 150 patients end up lying on floors, stairs or in corners of the hospital. However, despite his insights, no progress has been reported to ameliorate the conditions in Anahar.

MASUM has also written the following:

"This starving situation has erupted in a particular village named Anahar, meaning without grains/cereals. Thus, by namesake, the people residing in Anahar are well acquainted to this situation. So far, 28 families have been prey to the cruel death by starvation. Years earlier, the village was famine struck and many more people lost their lives. Starvation has not emerged suddenly in this village, but rather, is a human disaster with prior evidence. It seems that the government has not been able to learn anything from its past, resulting in many more deaths of the citizens of India."


SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write to the Chief Minister of West Bengal and other relevant government officials regarding these starvation deaths. A sample letter follows.

Sample letter:

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Dear Mr Bhattacharjee,

Re: Ongoing starvation and deaths in South Dinajpur district, West Bengal

Location: Anahar village, South Dinajpur, West Bengal, India
Persons affected:
All 28 families residing in the village, 15 people whose conditions are serious. The victims include:
1. Achhiya Bibi and her husband, Setu Molla. One child of theirs died of starvation, another is seriously malnourished.
2. Nurul Kaviraj
3. Dukhu Lohar, Krishna Lohar, Siddique Lohar
4. Jamira Bewa, Tuli Bewa, Khatun Bewa
Last reported deaths: Three children in recent weeks (deaths ongoing)

I am extremely disturbed to hear of yet another instance of starvation affecting communities in West Bengal, India. Due to ongoing starvation for several years, villagers in Anahar village in the South Dinajpur district has already been reduced to 28 families and 15 other children and adults will die of starvation soon if the conditions in the village do not change immediately. However, the West Bengal government authorities appear to be doing nothing.

The living conditions of the villagers are appalling; not only are the people deprived of food, but water, sanitation, and electricity as well. Many of the villagers have been eating leaves and roots to survive and as a result, those who are not dying of starvation are sick with related illnesses. Most recently, three children died from hunger in the past several weeks. One child was allegedly seen eating inedible objects to subdue his hunger.

It is my understanding that government negligence plays a vital role in the starvation and living conditions of the local people. I have been informed that a water source was created by the residents of Anahar in the form of a 3-acre pond to provide drinking water for families but access to this pond has been denied by local authorities citing Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code. It is believed that locals were prevented from using the pond as it could also be a fish source.

Further, I believe that at present the majority of Anahar residents are still not registered as a part of the Arnapurna & Arntyodaya Yojana or Below Poverty Line (BPL) Schemes for poverty alleviation. Mr. Anisur Rahaman, President of Tapan Panchayet Samity states that there is insufficient funding to distribute more BPL cards. However, Mr. Romit Mootsuddi, the District Magistrate of South Dinajpur, has agreed to provide additionally funding for the villagers. I imagine then, that assistance should be provided shortly to the people of Anahar.

I urge you, in accordance with domestic and international law, to take responsibility for the basic food needs of your people, and ensure that no further starvation deaths occur in the South Dinajpur district. Additionally, I urge your government to take steps to further ensure the long-term needs of the villagers are met.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
Chief Minister
Government of West Bengal
Writers Buildings, Kolkata - 700001
West Bengal
INDIA
Tel: +91 33 2214 5555 (O) / 2280 0631 (R)
Fax: +91 33 2214 5480 / 2214 1341
E-mail: cm@wb.gov.in, cm@writerscal.gov.in

2. Mr Naren Dey
Minister of Food and Supply
Government of West Bengal
Writers Buildings, Kolkata - 700001
West Bengal
INDIA
Fax: +91 33 2252 2628

3. Mr. Romit Mootsuddi
District Magistrate
South Dinajpur
INDIA
Fax: +91 35 8225 5488

4. Justice Ramesh Chandra Lahoti
Chief Justice of India
Supreme Court of India
New Delhi 110001
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 23383792/23381508

5. Justice A. S. Anand
Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission
Sardar Patel Bhaven, Sansad Marg,
New Delhi 110 001
INDIA
Tel: + 91 11 23346244
Fax: + 91 11 23366537
E-mail: ionhrc@hub.nic.in or chairnhrc@nic.in

6. Justice Shyamal Kumar Sen
Chairperson
West Bengal Human Rights Commission
Bhabani Bhavan, Alipore
Calcutta-700027
INDIA
Tel: +91 33 4797259 / 5558866
Fax: +91 33 4799633
Email: wbhrc@cal3.vsnl.net.in

7. Mr. Jean Ziegler
Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
c/o Mr. Carlos Villan Duran
Room 4-066 
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Palais Wilson,
Rue des Paquis 52, Geneva
Switzerland
Fax: +41 22 9179010
Email: sect.hchr@unog.ch

8. Mr Pedro Medrano Rojas
Country Director
World Food Programme
2 Poorvi Marg,
Vasant Vihar,
New Delhi 110057
INDIA
Tel: +91 11 26150000
Fax: +9111 26150019
Email: wfp.newdelhi@wfp.org


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme -- Hunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
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