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INDIA: The 'blame game' continues between state officials and local authorities over the starvation deaths of 8 persons

The victims; Moral Hembram, Bidoy Hembram, Mongla Mardi, Som Besra, Sundari Hembram, Malati Kisku, Dharni Murmu and Ghasirena Tudu; were all members of the so-called "backward classes" of caste-conscious India.

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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Hunger Alert

25 September 2006
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HA-08-2006: INDIA: The 'blame game' continues between state officials and local authorities over the starvation deaths of 8 persons

INDIA: Starvation and malnutrition; administrative failure and negligence; violation of right to life
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from a human rights organisation in West Bengal regarding the tragic deaths of eight indigenous tribespeople due to prolonged starvation and severe malnutrition between the approximate period of May to July of 2006, in Barala Gram Panchayat, of the Sagardighi Block in the Murshidabad district, West Bengal, India.

The victims; Moral Hembram, Bidoy Hembram, Mongla Mardi, Som Besra, Sundari Hembram, Malati Kisku, Dharni Murmu and Ghasirena Tudu; were all members of the so-called "backward classes" of caste-conscious India.

According to Mr. Ventu Mondal, a resident of the Barala Gram Panchayat , both Moral Hembram and Bidoy Hembram - two of the eight victims named above - had absolutely nothing to eat or drink in the last four days leading to death.

In the months following their death, there has been much finger-pointing and heated debate between state officials and local authorities, as to who is guilty of negligence of duty, and who therefore shoulder the burden of blame, in the deaths of these eight tribespeople.

According to Ms. Basanti Hembram, the acting head of the Barala Gram Panchayat, the state government allocates a standard monthly amount of Rs. 5000 [USD 113] to all elderly pensioners. However, after April of 2005, none of the listed pensioners in the Barala Gram Panchayat area received their due pensions. 83 elderly persons- including the eight victims- within the Barala area were adjudged as suitable candidates for the state pension scheme in February of 2004; however, pension payments came to all but a complete stop about 15 months ago. Ms. Hembram maintains that she made routine appeals to the Sagardighi Block Administration on behalf of these 83 pensioners, but that no redress has been made to date.

Barala Gram Panchayat is one of 32 Gram Panchayats covered by the Sagardighi Block. Local Sub-Divisional Officer, Bimalkanthi Das claims that the Block Scheduled Caste /Scheduled Tribe [SC/ST] Health Care Department received over 19 million rupees [USD 415,664] on behalf of the Barala Gram Panchayat, to equally divide and distribute to over 604 elderly pensioners in the area. In his statement, Mr. Das holds the officer-in-charge and the chief accountant of the SC/ST Health Care Department solely responsible for the non-distribution of money to pensioners in the Barala Gram area, also going so far as to claim that the eight victims would never have been driven to the point of starvation and malnutrition if they had received the monthly pensions duly promised to them.

The issue of "Who done it?" is further compounded by the counter-statements of local Block Development Officer, Mr. Chinmoy Mondal, whose name has been brought into much disrepute in what has turned into a political "blame game". Mr. Mondal argues, that despite Ms. Hembram's ardent allegations to the contrary, he was never informed of the starvation plight of the eight indigenous pensioners.

In response to allegations made against him, Mr. Partha Sen Sharma, officer-in-charge of Block SC/ST Health Care Department, claims that he handed the responsibility of division and distribution of the 19 million rupees to his senior-most accountant, Mr. Gopal Das, along with a list of the names and addresses of the 83 pensioners in the Barala Gram area.

In response to these allegations, Mr. Das claims that he attempted to deposit the pension payments at the Sagardighi post office, but that the post office, for reasons unknown, refused to accept or process the payments. Post Master of the Sagardighi post office, Mr. Kashinath Konar, hotly denies Mr. Das’ claims, and maintains that his post office has not received any such pension orders in over five months.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

India was a participant state in the 1996 World Food Summit in which access to food was identified as a fundamental human right, and the maintenance of food security was also identified as a fundamental obligation of the State. In light of this, it is most unfortunate and totally unacceptable, that equal access to food and food security is a human right still denied to large proportions of the Indian population.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write to the authorities listed below, expressing your grave concern regarding the deaths of these eight Barala tribespeople to starvation and malnutrition; eight deaths which could have, and should have been avoided.

Sample letter:

Dear __________,

INDIA: Eight elderly tribespeople succumb to starvation due to non-payment of pension

Name of victim:
(1) Moral Hembram
(2) Bidoy Hembram
(3) Mongla Mardi
(4) Som Besra
(5) Sundari Hembram
(6) Malati Kisku
(7) Dharni Murmu
(8) Ghasirena Tudu
All members of an indigenous tribe in Sagardighi Block of Murshidabad district, West Bengal.
Name of alleged perpetrators:
(1) Mr. Chinmoy Mondal, Block Development Officer, Sagardighi Block of Murshidabad district, West Bengal, India
(2) Mr. Bimalkanti Das, Sub-Divisional Officer, Murshidabad district, West Bengal, India
(3) Mr. Partha Sen Sharma, Officer-In-Charge of Block SC/ST Health Care Department, Sagardighi Block of Murshidabad district, West Bengal, India
(4) Mr. Gopal Das, Accountant at Block SC/ST Health Care Department, Sagardighi Block of Murshidabad district, West Bengal, India
(6) Mr. Kashinath Konar, Post Master of Sagardighi Post Office, Murshidabad district, West Bengal, India
And other officers of Sagardighi Block Administration
Date of incident: May - July 2006
Place of incident: Barala Gram Panchayat, Sagardighi Block, Murshidabad district, West Bengal

I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding the tragic deaths of the eight persons named above from the indigenous tribal community from starvation and gross malnutrition, in the Barala Gram Panchayat, Sagardighi Block, Murshidabad district, West Bengal, India between the months of May to July 2006.

The victims were all members of the so-called "backward classes" of caste-conscious India.
According to Mr. Ventu Mondal, a resident of the Barala Gram Panchayat, both Moral Hembram and Bidoy Hembram - two of the eight victims named above - had absolutely nothing to eat or drink in the last four days leading to death.

According to information that I have received, 83 elderly persons- including the eight victims - were adjudged as suitable candidates for the state pension scheme in February of 2004; which allocates a standard monthly amount of Rs. 5000 [USD 113] to all elderly pensioners. It is my understanding that pension-payments in the Barala Gram area came to all but a complete stop about 15 months ago for reasons unknown. Barala Gram Panchayat is one of 32 Gram Panchayats covered by the Sagardighi Block. Ms. Basanti Hembram, acting head of the Barala Gram Panchayat, maintains that she made routine appeals to the Sagardighi Block Administration on behalf of these 83 pensioners, but that no redress has been made to date.

In the months following their death, there has been much finger-pointing and heated debate between state officials and provincial authorities, as to who is guilty of negligence of duty, and who therefore shoulder the burden of blame, in the deaths of these 8 tribespeople.

Local Sub-Divisional Officer, Bimalkanthi Das claims that the Block SC/ST Health Care Department received over 19 million rupees [USD 415,664] on behalf of the Barala Gram Panchayat, to equally divide and distribute to over 604 elderly pensioners in the area. In his statement, Mr. Das holds the officer-in-charge and the chief accountant of the SC/ST Health Care Department solely responsible for the non-distribution of money to pensioners in the Barala Gram area, also going so far as to claim that the eight victims would never have been driven to the point of starvation and malnutrition if they had received the monthly pensions duly promised to them.

The issue of "Who done it?" is further compounded by the counter-statements of local Block Development Officer, Mr. Chinmoy Mondal, who argues, that despite Ms. Hembram's ardent allegations to the contrary, he was never informed of the starvation plight of the eight indigenous pensioners.

In response to allegations made against him, Mr. Partha Sen Sharma, Officer-in-Charge of Block SC/ST Health Care Department, claims that he handed the responsibility of division and distribution of the 19 million rupees to his senior-most accountant, Mr. Gopal Das, along with a list of the names and addresses of the 83 pensioners in the Barala Gram area.

In response to these allegations, Mr. Das claims that he attempted to deposit the pension payments at the Sagardighi post office, but that the post office, for reasons unknown, refused to accept or process the payments. Post Master of the Sagardighi Post Office, Mr. Kashinath Konar, hotly denies Mr. Das' claims, and maintains that his post office has not received any such pension orders in over five months.

I am deeply disturbed by the deaths of these eight tribespeople; deaths which could have, and should have been avoided. I also find the behaviour of the provincial authorities both prior to and following the deaths of the 8 starvation-victims to be totally irresponsible and unacceptable. I strongly urge the Indian government to make immediate inquiries into the incident, and to exercise tighter control over administrative authorities, in ensuring that incidents such as these never happen again.

It is also my understanding that India was a state participant in the 1996 World Food Summit held in Rome, in which equal access to food was identified as a fundamental human right, and the maintenance of food security was also identified as a fundamental obligation of the State. The Indian government has an obligation to protect and ensure these rights for its people. Therefore in light of this, incidents such as these are unacceptable and inexcusable.

I look forward to your prompt and effective response in the matter.

Yours sincerely,


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PLEASE SEND LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee
Chief Minister/ Minister of Home Department
Government of West Bengal
Writer's Building
Kolkata - 700 001
West Bengal
INDIA
Fax: +91 33 2214 5480/ 2214 1341

2. The District Magistrate - Murshidabad
Murshidabad
West Bengal
INDIA
Fax: +91 34 8225 0145

3. Mr. Biswanath Choudhury
Minister of Social Welfare Department
Government of West Bengal
Writer's Building
Kolkata - 700 001
West Bengal
INDIA
Fax: +91 33 2214 5452
E-mail: micjail@wb.gov.in 

4. Mr. Naren Dey
Minister of Food and Supply
Government of West Bengal
Writers Buildings
Kolkata - 700001
West Bengal
INDIA

5. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes
Government of India
5th Floor, Loknayak Bhawan
Khan Market
New Delhi 110003
INDIA
Tel: + 91 11 2462 0435
Fax: + 91 11 2462 5378

6. Mr. Jean Zeigler
UN 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
Tel: +41 22 917 9300
Fax: +41 22 9179010

7. Mr. Doudou Diene
UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism,
racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance
C/o OHCHR-UNOG
1211 Geneva 10,
SWITZERLAND
Tel: + 41 22 917 93 88
Fax: + 41 22 917 9006


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ahrchk@ahrchk.org)

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