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UPDATE (India): Starvation deaths continue in Varanasi

The AHRC earlier reported how Vishambhar's wife and two of his five children died of starvation and hunger-related illness in April and May 2005 after he lost his job due to a long-term downturn in the weaving market. Despite the changed economic situation destroying entire communities like the village of Sankarpur, state government agencies have failed to give social security and food assistance as required by law. In Vishambhar's case he was not given the card for government rations to which he was entitled. Only after several media reports on the deaths of his wife and children did the administration give him a pitiful handout, consisting of 50kg of wheat and 20kg of rice. Meanwhile, his surviving children were taken to a nearby social welfare facility run by a non-government group.

UPDATE ON HUNGER ALERT UPDATE ON HUNGER ALERT UPDATE ON HUNGER ALERT UPDATE ON HUNGER ALERT UPDATE ON HUNGER ALERT

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

Update on Hunger Alert

26 September 2005

[HA-12-2005: INDIA: Three members of one family starve to death in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh]
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HU-08-2005: UPDATE (India): Starvation deaths continue in Varanasiii

INDIA: Starvation death, denial of right to livelihood, government inaction and neglect
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) deeply regrets to inform you that according to the People's Vigilance Committee for Human Rights (PVCHR), as well as local media sources, starvation deaths are continuing among the impoverished and ruined weaver community in Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh.

In June the AHRC reported how a mother and two children died of starvation [HA-12-2005]. The PVCHR now informs us that despite getting a handful of government rations, the father in that family, Vishambhar, is still himself at the verge of death. Meanwhile, another weaver from the same village is reported to have died of starvation-related illness on September 18, leaving his family to struggle for survival on their own.

The AHRC asks you to write as a matter of great urgency to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh demanding that the concerned authorities take immediate steps to prevent any further hunger deaths in the state, and ensure that government programmes to alleviate hunger are up and running for the long term, not simply for the period that there is some public attention on each individual case. Investigations should also be launched to identify and punish those government officers that have failed to fulfill their duties despite the starvation afflicting the weaver community of Varanasi now being a matter of widespread knowledge.

Urgent Appeals Desk¡ªHunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
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DETAILED INFORMATION:

Persons affected:
1. Vishambhar, aged about 35, son of Ramnandan (wife and two children died from starvation as reported in HA-12-2005), still facing starvation
2. Kanhaiya, aged 40, died of starvation-related illness on 18 September 2005, leaving behind his wife Sheela and three children: Puja (aged 5), Omprakash (aged 3), Chhotu (aged 1)
3. Roughly 400 families of the same village variously affected by hunger
Location: Sankarpur village, Chiraigoan police post, Varanasi district, Uttar Pradesh          
 
The AHRC earlier reported how Vishambhar's wife and two of his five children died of starvation and hunger-related illness in April and May 2005 after he lost his job due to a long-term downturn in the weaving market. Despite the changed economic situation destroying entire communities like the village of Sankarpur, state government agencies have failed to give social security and food assistance as required by law. In Vishambhar's case he was not given the card for government rations to which he was entitled. Only after several media reports on the deaths of his wife and children did the administration give him a pitiful handout, consisting of 50kg of wheat and 20kg of rice. Meanwhile, his surviving children were taken to a nearby social welfare facility run by a non-government group.

PVCHR raised the family's case through all available domestic and international channels, and took Vishambhar to meet with the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Mr. Jean Ziegler, when he visited India in August. Vishambhar told the Special Rapporteur that some 400 families in his village of Sankarpur are facing the same dreaded situation.

Vishambhar's meager ration has now run out and he is again begging for some money with which to buy some food from day to day. He is again facing the same fate as his wife and two children.

That fate was shared by another weaver from the same village, 40-year-old Kanhaiya, who died of starvation-related illness on September 18, despite it being reported in a regional newspaper on September 7 that he had been sick for three months and was on the verge of death. According to the second newspaper report on the case in the Times of India on September 20, which has been confirmed by PVCHR, the district administration denied knowledge of the death.

Kanhaiya was the only person in the family generating any income at all and so his wife and three children have now also been left to survive on their own. The mother of the three has reportedly refused to allow them to stay at a nearby facility run by a non-government group for fear that they will be adopted by other families against her will.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

Although the state government of Uttar Pradesh claims to be spending large sums of money on welfare schemes, still people are starving, despite the knowledge of the authorities and the wider public.

Dr N C Saxena, the Commissioner of the Supreme Court (for details about the mandate, click here) charged with following-up on the court's orders related to the right to food, wrote to the Chief Secretary of Uttar Pradesh on 5 July 2005 stating that he has received no evidence of any action taken by the state government of Uttar Pradesh to address ongoing starvation deaths in Varanasi, Sonebhadra, Jaunpur, Khusinagar and Mirzapur districts. He stated bluntly in the letter that the deaths "show that Supreme Court orders are not being implemented in the state".

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please write to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh to express outrage at his government's abject failure to address the ongoing starvation and starvation-related deaths there despite widespread publicity and court orders on the same. In particular, please call for investigations and disciplinary action to be taken against the government officials responsible for this failure.

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Dear Mr. Yadav

Re: INDIA: Starvation deaths continue in Varanasi

Persons affected:
1. Vishambhar, aged about 35, son of Ramnandan (wife and two children died from starvation in April and May 2005), still facing starvation
2. Kanhaiya, aged 40, died of starvation-related illness on 18 September 2005, leaving behind his wife Sheela and three children: Puja (aged 5), Omprakash (aged 3), Chhotu (aged 1)
3. Roughly 400 families of the same village variously affected by hunger
Location: Sankarpur village, Chiraigoan police post, Varanasi district, Uttar Pradesh          
 
I am shocked to hear that villagers in Sankarpur, under Chiraigoan police post, Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh are still starving to death despite your government having been made very well aware of their plight. Notably, you should by now be familiar with the case of Vishambhar, whose wife and two of five children died of starvation and hunger-related illness in April and May 2005 after he lost his job due to a long-term downturn in the weaving market.

Despite the changed economic situation destroying the weaving-based economy of Sankarpur, I am informed that state government agencies have failed to give social security and food assistance as required by law. In Vishambhar's case he was not given the card for government rations to which he was entitled. Only after several media reports on his case did your administration afford him a pitiful handout, consisting of 50kg of wheat and 20kg of rice. However, this meager ration has now run out and Vishambhar is again begging for some money with which to buy some food from day to day. He is again facing the same fate as his wife and two children.

I have heard that another weaver from the same village, 40-year-old Kanhaiya, also died of starvation-related illness on 18 September 2005, despite it being reported in a regional newspaper on September 7 that he had been sick for three months and was on the verge of death. According to the second newspaper report on the case in the Times of India on September 20, which has been confirmed by PVCHR, the district administration denied knowledge of the death; however, under the circumstances this is difficult to believe. 

Kanhaiya was the only person in the family generating any income at all and so his wife and three children have now also been left to survive on their own. The mother of the three has reportedly refused to give them up to stay at a nearby facility run by a non-government group for fear that they will be adopted by other families against her will.

I am aware that Dr N C Saxena, Commissioner of the Supreme Court, sent a letter to you on 5 July 2005 (Ref. Hungercomp/311/UP) stating that he has received no evidence of any action taken by your government to address ongoing starvation deaths in Varanasi, Sonebhadra, Jaunpur, Khusinagar and Mirzapur districts. He stated in that letter that the deaths "show that Supreme Court orders are not being implemented in the state".

As Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh you have an obligation to the people residing in the state to respect, protect and fulfill the right to food in accordance with domestic and international law. From the information that I have received to date, it is manifest that you and your administration have failed in all respects to meet this obligation. I call upon you now to meet this obligation or resign your position. I urge you to take immediate, unequivocal steps to ensure that no more people in the communities affected by starvation brought on by the economic downturn in the weaving industry die as a result. I also insist that you introduce effective long-term measures in accordance with existing schemes for poverty alleviation to lift the affected persons out of their desperate circumstances.

Finally, I urge you to order a separate investigation into the alleged negligence of the village authorities, and any other concerned state officers, which has permitted these deaths to occur against the orders of the Supreme Court and the existing policies and programmes of the government of India. The negligent persons--and they must exist--should be held fully and criminally accountable for their failures. The right to food will only be made effective when the concerned agencies and agents feel the weight of responsibility for the task, which can come only with proper enforcement.

Yours sincerely

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav
Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh
Chief Minister's Secretariat
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
INDIA
Fax: + 91-522-2230002/2239234
Email: csup@up.nic.in

PLEASE SEND COPIES TO:

1. Justice A. S. Anand
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

2. Justice A P Mishra
Chairperson
Uttar Pradesh Human Rights Commission
6-A Kalidass Marg
Lucknow Uttar Pradesh
INDIA

3. Mr. Jean Ziegler
UNCHR, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
c/o Mr. Carlos Villan Duran
Room 4-066 
OHCHR,
Palais Wilson,
Rue des Paquis 52,
Geneva
SWITZERLAND
Fax: +41 22 917 9010
Email: sect.hchr@unog.ch

4. Mr. Anthony Banbury
Regional Director
World Food Programme
Unit No. 2, 7th Floor
Wave Place Building
55 Wireless Road
Lumpini, Patumwan
Bangkok 10330
THAILAND
Tel: +66-2-6554115
Fax: +66-2-6554413
Email: Anthony.banbury@wfp.org or Bkk.unescap@un.org

5. Mr. Gian Pietro Bordignon
Country Director
World Food Programme
2 Poorvi Marg, Vasant Vihar,
New Delhi 110057
INDIA
Tel: +91-11-26150000
Fax: +91-11-26150019
Email: wfp.newdelhi@wfp.org

6. Dr. N.C. Saxena and Mr. S.R. Sankaran
Commissioners
Supreme Court of India
SAMYA, R-38A, 2nd floor
South Extention - part 2
New Delhi - 49
INDIA
Fax: +91-11-5164 2147
Email: commissioners@vsnl.net

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme¡ªHunger Alert
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

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