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UPDATE(India): District administration responds to Hunger Alerts in Uttar Pradesh

The AHRC on three previous occasions had issued hunger alerts reporting cases of acute starvation from Raitara Musahar ghetto in Pindra block of Varanasi district. The first case, issued on July 17, 2007 was concerning Mulayam Musahar, a boy aged five years. Mulayam is suffering from Grade III malnourishment. After reporting this case the AHRC had also reported two other cases in succession. The case of Maya Musahar, a five-year-old girl suffering from Grade IV malnutrition, was reported on July 23, 2007 and that of Rema Musahar, a two-year-old girl, also suffering from Grade IV malnutrition, was reported on July 31, 2007.

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

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – HUNGER ALERT PROGRAMME

Update on Hunger Alert

3 August 2007

[RE: HA-006-2007: INDIA: Five-year-old Musahar boy may die from starvation in Raitara of Pindra village in Varanasi in the coming days; HA-007-2007: INDIA: Five-year-old Dalit girl facing imminent death from starvation in Raitara village of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh; HA-008-2007: INDIA: Two-year-old girl facing imminent death from starvation in Raitara village of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh]
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HU-002-2007: INDIA: District administration responds to Hunger Alerts in Uttar Pradesh

INDIA: Right to food; caste based discrimination; failure of the local administration; corruption
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from its local partner the People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights [PVCHR], a human rights organisation based in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh that the Varanasi district administration has responded to hunger alerts issued by the AHRC regarding cases from Raitara Musahar ghetto in Pindra village. Raitara is in Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh. The AHRC in the past two weeks had issued three hunger alerts, reporting cases of acute starvation from Raitara.

UPDATED INFORMATION:

The AHRC on three previous occasions had issued hunger alerts reporting cases of acute starvation from Raitara Musahar ghetto in Pindra block of Varanasi district. The first case, issued on July 17, 2007 was concerning Mulayam Musahar, a boy aged five years. Mulayam is suffering from Grade III malnourishment. After reporting this case the AHRC had also reported two other cases in succession. The case of Maya Musahar, a five-year-old girl suffering from Grade IV malnutrition, was reported on July 23, 2007 and that of Rema Musahar, a two-year-old girl, also suffering from Grade IV malnutrition, was reported on July 31, 2007.

The state government, on receipt of the hunger alerts has responded to the call for immediate help by the residents in the Musahar ghetto of Raitara. It is reported that the state government has ordered the district administration to immediately intervene in the situation. It is reported that the Block Development Officer [BDO] from Pindra block had visited Raitara. This was the first visit by a government officer to Raitara Musahar ghetto.

It is reported that the BDO after his visit has formed a village level committee of three persons to monitor the situation in Raitara. The Lekpal [a revenue officer], the Village Secretary and the Assistant Development Officer from the Block Office are the members of this committee. It is also reported that this committee will inquire into the existing cases where a Red Ration Card has been issued to persons who were not qualified to receive subsidised ration through the Public Food Distribution System [PDS].

A Red Ration Card is issued to a person/family who is poor and below the poverty line entitling the person to receive food grains through the PDS shops at a highly subsidised rate. After a preliminary inquiry the committee has recommended to cancel 30 Red Ration Cards already issued. It is reported that some of those who lost their cards after the committee's inquiry were in fact affluent persons in the locality who had obtained their cards through fraud and making use of corrupt officers in the system.

The committee is also expected to look into issuing new cards to the residents of Raitara Musahar ghetto. It is expected that the committee will soon complete their work and within a few weeks the entire residents of Raitara Musahar ghetto will have appropriate ration cards to claim ration through the PDS shops.

After the hunger alerts were issued, a medical doctor from the nearby public heath centre also visited Raitara Musahar ghetto. The doctor examined all the children and also those who require medical attention in the ghetto. This is the first time a government doctor has visited Raitara Musahar ghetto.

In the mean while Mr. Santhosh, a local activist working with the PVCHR organised a public protest before the Block Development Office in Pindra calling for the government to immediately address the issue of acute starvation in Raitara Musahar ghetto. Santhosh has also filed an application under the Right to Information Act, 2005 with the government authorities asking for information on several counts including the action initiated against the officials who are responsible for issuing ration cards for non-eligible persons.

Additionally, the District Magistrate of Varanasi has also promised that all government welfare schemes will be implemented at Raitara Musahar ghetto within the end of the second week of August 2007.

The AHRC while appreciating the state government's initiative to address the problems in Raitara Musahar ghetto is equally apprehensive about the progress in implementing the government welfare schemes in Raitara. The AHRC and the PVCHR is concerned whether the food shortage of the Musahar families in Raitara would continue for several months before any concrete plan of action is implemented in the village. The AHRC and the PVCHR is also concerned whether the starving Musahar families will be immediately provided with enough food grains as an interim arrangement till the situation is completely contained.

The AHRC had also reported through its earlier hunger alerts that the village head of Raitara, Mr. Rajkumar Yadav, is responsible for keeping away the government schemes from being of any benefit to the Musahar families in Raitara. Even as of today there are several Musahars who are working as bonded labourers in brick kilns and farms owned by Mr. Rajkumar Yadav. The AHRC and PVCHR is also calling upon the district administration to intervene in this issue as well with the help of the local police.

The District Magistrate must ensure that all bonded labourers currently being forced to work by Rajkumar Yadav must be immediately released. Bonded labour being a crime, Rajkumar Yadav must be charged under the Bonded Labour System [Abolition] Act, 1976. The district administration must also ensure that caste based discrimination is no more entertained against the Musahar community in Raitara by the upper caste community, particularly the community led by the village head Mr. Rajkumar Yadav.

The administration must also ensure the safety of all human rights activists attached to the PVCHR working in Raitara Musahar ghetto. This is because that there is an apprehension that Rajkumar Yadav may target some of the human rights activists attached to the PVCHR for taking up the issue of the Musahar families in Raitara Musahar ghetto, who were thus far under the absolute control of the village head and starved and forced to work.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write letters to the concerned authorities listed below and urge them to make sure that the initiative of the government to implement welfare programmes in Raitara Musahar ghetto are not stalled. Please write to the District Magistrate of Varanasi in particular so that the conduct of Mr. Rajkumar Yadav, the village head of Pindra is investigated and the bonded labourers are released immediately from his custody.

To support this appeal, please click here:

Sample letter:

Dear __________,

INDIA: Please make sure that there will be no more cases of starvation in Raitara Musahar ghetto of Pindra village in Varanasi

Name of the victims: The residents of Raitara Musahar ghetto in Pindra village, Varanasi district, Uttar Pradesh
Place of incident:  Raitara Musahar ghetto, Pindra

I am writing to express my appreciation of the state government's initiative to address the acute food shortage in Raitara Musahar ghetto in Pindra village of Varanasi district. I am informed that the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and its local partner, the People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), had sent out three successive hunger alerts in the past two weeks reporting instances of acute food shortage from Raitara and that the response of the state government was in answer to these alerts.

I am informed that the Block Development Officer [BDO] from Pindra block who visited Raitara Musahar village in the past week has formed a three person committee to look into cases of misuse of authority in issuing Red Ration Cards to the people. I am also informed that after a preliminary inquiry the committee has recommended the cancellation of 30 Red Ration Cards issued in the name of non-eligible persons in Pindra. I am also informed that the District Magistrate of Varanasi has promised the residents of Raitara Musahar ghetto that all government welfare schemes will be implemented in the village within a few days.

However I am concerned about the pace of implementation of the government welfare schemes in Raitara. I am afraid that the situation of food shortage in the Musahar families of Raitara is so acute that in absence of an immediate interim measure there is a possibility for the children, particularly Mulayam Musahar, Maya Musahar and Rema Musahar facing malnutrition in the Raitara may not survive to benefit from the long-term intervention the government is planning in Raitara.

I am also equally concerned why no actions have not been initiated against the village head of Pindra village Mr. Rajkumar Yadav, who has been allegedly forcing Musahar community into bonded labour. I am informed that bonded labour practices are prohibited in law in India and also attract prosecution, since bonded labour is a crime. I therefore request you to also look into this aspect of working conditions of the Musahar community in Raitara Musahar ghetto.

I further request you to take immediate steps so that an inquiry is initiated into the conduct of those officials who were responsible for issuing 30 Red Ration Cards which are now recommended to be canceled by the committee constituted by the BDO. I also request you to ensure the safety of the human rights activists working for the PVCHR in Raitara so that they are not threatened by the village head Mr. Rajkumar Yadav.

I request you continued support for the Musahar families residing in Raitara Musahar ghetto and to ensure that the situation of acute food shortage in Raitara is addressed immediately.

Yours truly,


___________

PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTER TO:

1. District Magistrate
Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh
INDIA
Fax: 91 5422501450

2. Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission of India
Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg
New Delhi-110001
INDIA
Tel: + 91 11 23074448
E-mail: chairnhrc@nic.in

3. 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

4. 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

5. Mr. Doudou Diene
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 (ua@ahrchk.org)

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