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INDIA: Starving Musahar community face exploitation in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh

The AHRC requests that you to write letters to the local administration, asking them to immediately address the hunger concerns of this community and ensure that all assistance schemes are functioning to prevent further starvation deaths from occurring. Moreover, persons, police officers and other concerned government authorities who have been found to be exploiting and torturing villagers of the Musahar community must be charged and punished.

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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

5 March 2006

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HA-02-2006: INDIA: Starving Musahar community face exploitation in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh
COUNTRY: Hunger and starvation; government neglect; bonded labour; police intimidation
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) regarding the acute hunger and exploitation of villagers belonging to the Musahar community in Mirzapur District, Uttar Pradesh. A fact finding team, consisting of members from PVCHR and the Right to Food Campaign, visited the villagers in November 2005 and subsequently produced a report highlighting several starvation deaths that have occurred in the area, as well as the continuous and consistent denial of assistance programmes, welfare schemes, and government aide. The team also reported that exploitation, discrimination and police torture still persists against the Musahar community.

The AHRC requests that you to write letters to the local administration, asking them to immediately address the hunger concerns of this community and ensure that all assistance schemes are functioning to prevent further starvation deaths from occurring. Moreover, persons, police officers and other concerned government authorities who have been found to be exploiting and torturing villagers of the Musahar community must be charged and punished.

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

Location: Damahi village, Mahal Jungle, Rajgarh Block, Mirzapur District, Uttar Pradesh
Persons affected:
1. Ramchander, age 18, and his four brothers; their mother died from starvation
2. Amravati, age 12
3. Krishnavati
4. Ramdulari and her family
5. Ramshakal and his family
6. Heerawati, who died of starvation
7. Kevali, age 55, who also died of starvation along with her two daughters in-law, and her family
8. Sarju, who died of starvation, his son Phunnu, and their family
9. The hundreds of families who live in the Damahi Village and suffer from hunger, malnutrition and starvation.

On 1 November 2005, a fact finding team consisting of members from the Right to Food Campaign and PVCHR visited the Damahi Village in Mirzapur District, Uttar Pradesh. The group heard from numerous families and found that the majority were suffering from acute hunger and malnutrition; several starvation deaths were also reported.

The severe hunger situation in the village exists for several reasons. First, although the families are entitled to be under Below Poverty Line (BPL) welfare schemes, no one has received BPL red ration cards. Furthermore, while some families do possess white ration cards, which allow villagers to buy food at slightly higher prices than with red ration cards, many families are unable to purchase food. The rations are either too costly or the public distribution shops that supply the food refuse to sell their goods. A lack of job opportunities also adds to the minimal wages most families earn, particularly those who are landless. Women also tend to be more affected by the hunger as the patriarchal society often means that their needs are secondary to their sons, brothers, fathers and husbands.

Second, the village also lacks most basic amenities. There are no Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) centers in the village, no health centers or hospitals, and no potable water facilities. The lack of all these facilities coupled with the lack of food directly violates the Supreme Court order that safeguards the right to life of all Indian citizens. Additionally, many people have had to work in unfavorable conditions such as in stone quarries, which provides far less than the daily minimum wage per day. Thus, several people have had to take loans out from their employers in order to provide for their basic necessities, which binds them to this work until the debt is paid off. Under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005, all persons living below the poverty line are entitled to 100 days of minimum wage labour. However, the scheme has not been implemented in Mirzapur and no alternative means of work exist currently.

Third, many villagers have also alleged that the Musahar community in Mirzapur have been continuously exploited, threatened and intimidated by feudal lords and the police. There have been instances of land grabbing, where feudal lords have forcibly taken property owned by the villagers and destroyed their land. Violence is often used against daily wage labourers as well, particularly stone quarry workers who are bonded to their jobs, and work in intolerable conditions for well below minimum wage. Finally, the villagers are often intimidated by police officers who label them as Naxalites, when the victims are just trying to fight for their rights.

Below are several personal statements from victims of hunger in the area, highlighting these human rights abuses and violations that are occurring against the Musahar community.

Ramchander: “I have four brothers, one of them is handicapped. We have no land. My mother was ill and had been suffering from a hunger-related illness. In order to fund her medical treatment, I had to take out loans of Rs. 10,000, but no officials or doctors came to my house. She passed away without having eaten food for five days. There is no hospital in the village or even nearby. In an emergency, we have to go to Ahraura, the nearest market, and often people die half way. There is no drinking water in the village so we have to bring water from the river.

“The village head has bought his votes and does not care about the poor people. Our livelihoods depend upon my work, which is to collect dry wood from the jungle. Every morning, we go into the jungle, often times without food, collect wood, and then travel to the market to sell the bundles. I can normally make Rs. 50 - 70 for two days of work. I also work in the stone quarries, under Rakesh Patel. He only pays Rs. 5 - 6, which is half of the normal wage rate. If one dares to leave the work, they would certainly be beaten.”

Amravati: “I go to the jungle to collect dry wood. I do not have food on a daily basis and often, I have to go through long periods of no food.”

Krishnavati: “When the Musahars and Kols demand our rights, we have been called Naxalites. So many innocent people have been beaten badly and have been arrested because they consider us to be terrorists, when all we are doing is asking for assistance.”

Ramdulari: “I belong to the Chamar community. There is a piece of agricultural land in my mother’s name. But Lallan Patel, one of the feudal lords in the area, has taken possession over that land. He destroyed our entire crop of Parval (an Indian vegetable) which was valued at up to Rs. 10,000. However, the police have taken no action against this man, who has clearly stolen and destroyed our property.”

Ramshakal: “I have a white ration card, which allows me access to partially subsidized food; I can buy up to 35 kg in rice and wheat. However, I never get any food grains. I work as a labourer in a stone quarry belonging to Krishna Kumar. I took a loan of Rs. 7,000 - 8,000 from this man and now I cannot stop working as a labourer there until I pay back my debt. If I leave, I will be severely beaten.”

Daughter of Heerawati: “My mother died of hunger some time back. Now all we can manage to eat is some dry bread. Mostly though, I just collect barja from the fields and eat it raw, without roasting or cooking it.”

Kevali: “My family and I don’t have ration cards. Due to extreme hunger and the lack of food, my daughter in-law (Heerawati) died of starvation three years ago. My other daughter in-law, Munga, also recently passed away due to hunger. Munga did not eat for four days before she died.

“My son, Vishnu, has even taken a loan from his employer, Rakesh Chauhan, in order to get medical treatment and food for the rest of us. But it only provided temporary help and we are now living with almost no food again.” Please note, Kevali also died of starvation after the visit.

Phunnu: “My father, Sarju, died of starvation on 8 October 2005. He had not eaten anything for five days before he died. I work at a stone quarry belonging to Rampos and had to take a loan of Rs. 850 from him because on average, I only earn about Rs. 25 daily. It is not enough money for me to support my family but I have no option to leave.”

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please write to the relevant authorities below urging them to immediately investigate the situation and provide the necessary assistance programmes to the starving Musahar community. Immediate relief should be provided to the victims, which includes red ration cards and functioning public distribution shops. ICDS and medical centers should also be provided in the long-run. Furthermore, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 must be implemented in the village, and those in bonded labour need be released, and rehabilitation and compensation provided under the Bonded Labour Act, 1976. Finally, those feudal lords, police officials and stone quarry owners found to be exploiting and intimidating the villagers and their land must be reprimanded and prosecuted for their abuses.

Suggested Letter:

Dear ____________

RE: INDIA: Starving Musahar community face exploitation in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh

Location: Damahi village, Mahal Jungle, Rajgarh Block, Mirzapur District, Uttar Pradesh
Persons affected:
1. Ramchander, his family, mother and four brothers
2. Amravati, age 12
3. Krishnavati
4. Ramdulari and her family
5. Ramshakal and his family
6. Heerawati, who died of starvation
7. Kevali, age 55, who also died of starvation along with her two daughters in-law, and her family
8. Sarju, who died of starvation, his son Phunnu, and their family
9. The hundreds of families who live in the Damahi Village and suffer from hunger, malnutrition and starvation.

I am writing to draw your attention to the severe hunger situation that currently exists in Damahi Village, Mirzapur. On 1 November 2005, a fact finding team consisting of members from the Right to Food Campaign and the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) visited the village and found that the majority of villagers were suffering from hunger and malnutrition. Many families also reported starvation deaths in their families.

I was given detailed information on several personal stories of villagers who have been seriously affected by the hunger. One woman, Kevali, told of how her two daughters in-law died of starvation. Kevali died not long after she was interviewed after not eating for days. Another young girl informed the team that she did not eat on a daily basis, while another talked of how when her family does eat, it is only dry bread or barja collected from the fields. Although everyone in the village should be under Below Poverty Level (BPL) assistance schemes, no one has a red ration cards. Some villagers have white ration cards, as Ramshakal does, however, food cannot be bought because it is either still too costly or the Public Distribution Shops (PDS) do not sell the grain.

I was also informed that the villagers also lack all basic necessities in the area. There are no ICDS centers or schools in the village, and no access to potable water. Medical facilities are also lacking, people must travel to a market to get to the nearest hospital, which is expensive. Often times in emergencies, the patient dies en route to seeking medical attention. Additionally, many people have had to work in unfavorable conditions, such as stone quarries, which provides far less than the daily minimum wage per day. Thus, several people have had to take loans out from their employers in order to provide for their basic necessities, which further binds them to this work until the debt is paid off. Under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005, all persons living below the poverty line are entitled to 100 days of minimum wage labour. However, the scheme has not been implemented in Mirzapur and no alternative means of work currently exist.

Finally, members of the Musahar community continue to be exploited and intimidated by feudal lords and police. I was told of numerous cases where labourers were scared to leave their jobs for fear of being beaten. Feudal lords have also been accused of land grabbing and destroying the crops of what little property the villagers own. Ramdulari informed us that her family owns a plot of land in her mother’s name, yet one feudal lord took possession of it and then proceeded to destroy the family’s crops. Moreover, it wa s brought to my attention that many of the villagers who complain or fight for their rights then become labeled as Naxalites, which then categorizes them as terrorists. Police often times will use violence against these villagers who are only trying receive assistance.

I strongly urge you to investigate this hunger situation and the other circumstances causing the starvation deaths and suffering in the village. Immediate relief should be provided to the victims, which includes red ration cards to those living below the poverty line and fully-functioning public distribution shops. ICDS and medical centers and wells should also be provided in the long-run. Furthermore, the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005 must be implemented in the village to provide alternative sources of income for the families. Those villagers currently in bonded labour need be released, and rehabilitation and compensation provided under the Bonded Labour Act, 1976. Finally, those feudal lords, police officials and stone quarry owners found to be exploiting and intimidating the villagers and their land must be reprimanded and prosecuted for these violations.

I trust you will take immediate action in this matter.
       
Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND 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. Mr. Umesh Kumar Mittal
District Magistrate
Mirzapur District
Uttar Pradesh
INDIA
Tel: +91 54 4225 2480, 7400
Fax: +91 54 4225 2552
Email: mir@up.nic.in

2. Sub Divisional Magistrate
Chunar, Mirzapur District
Uttar Pradesh
INDIA
Tel: +91 54 4222 2413

3. 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

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

5. 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

6. 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

7. 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

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

Thank you.

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

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