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INDIA: Neglect by government aggravates poverty of Dalits in Varanasi

Ms. Kalawati Nat (age 45) is from the Nat community of Kuwar village, Baragaon Block in Varanasi district. She begs to support her four children, often by going around in ten villages each day. Her children collect vegetables left by farmers in the field but are often chased away by the farmers. Kalawati and her children find it difficult to manage even one meal a day. Sometimes they catch a wild animal such as snake to eat. When they can make a meal, they simply eat rice or potatoes.

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEAL PROGRAMME

Hunger Alert General: AHRC-HAG-003-2008

5 August 2008
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INDIA: Neglect by government aggravates poverty of Dalits in Varanasi

ISSUES: Poverty; lack of livelihood; right to adequate housing; neglect by government; caste based discrimination
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from the local human rights organisation, the People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), regarding the poor living conditions of a Dalit community in Varanasi. Due to utter neglect of the government and caste based discrimination this community suffers from lack of food, adequate housing and basic facilities such as water or electricity. It is reported that 21 families in this community manage their daily food from begging or eating snakes or rodents. Despite several appeals to the relevant local authorities, no substantial action is yet taken to save these families from hunger and extreme poverty.

CASE DETAILS:

Ms. Kalawati Nat (age 45) is from the Nat community of Kuwar village, Baragaon Block in Varanasi district. She begs to support her four children, often by going around in ten villages each day. Her children collect vegetables left by farmers in the field but are often chased away by the farmers. Kalawati and her children find it difficult to manage even one meal a day. Sometimes they catch a wild animal such as snake to eat. When they can make a meal, they simply eat rice or potatoes.

Although Kalawati's family live in a rural area, she does not have land to cultivate and is not employed as an agricultural labourer due to caste based discrimination. The Nat is a lower caste in India, considered as untouchables by upper caste Hindus. Even among the lower caste the Nat is considered as the lowest. In effect Nat is the untouchable among the untouchable.

Kalawati often cannot afford to buy food grain from the Public Food Distribution (PDS) shop with an AAY card which is issued to the poorest people, since she has no money. The AAY card entitles a card holder to buy rationed food grains at a highly subsidised rate from the PDS shops in India. The purchase price for grains for an AAY card holder is INR 2 per kilogram for wheat and INR 3 per kilogram of rice. A family holding an AAY card is entitled to purchase 35 kilogram of grains per month at subsidised price through the PDS shops.

However whenever Kalawati goes to the PDS shop to buy grains, the shopkeeper Mr. Kailash Dubey weigh five kilograms less than what is assigned. This is a crime under the Essential Commodities Act 1955. Short weighing of grains by the shop keeper was stopped only after several protests organised by community members. The PDS shop distributing the rations to four villages including Kuwar village is one and half kilometers away from Kuwar village, making it hard for the Nat community members to reach the shop.

As Kalawati's family live in an old mud hut Kalawati tried to obtain the benefits under the government housing scheme for those who belong to the Scheduled Caste living below the poverty line. Kalawati's demand for adequate housing, which she is entitled to, was refused by village head Mr. Rajendra Sonkar and the Village Council Secretary Mr. Ram Raj.

On October 16, 2007 and on November 13, 2007, the Tehsil day (a day on which the district administration listens complaints from the ordinary people) Kalawati along with other Nat community members submitted an application for allowing houses under the housing scheme (Indira Awas Yojana) as well as for land allotment. They also sent a letter to the District Magistrate (DM) of Varanasi district calling for government attention to their situation.

An officer visited the village to conduct an evaluation of the Nat community's living condition. However, it is reported that the officer did not do a proper job and instead of listening to the Nat community took down the statement of a shopkeeper outside the Nat community and left the place. It is also reported that the same shopkeeper had assaulted a member of the Nat community in the past.

As the local government, including the village council, have neither responded to the Nat community nor taken any steps to eradicate hunger and poverty, on May 8, 2008 Savitribai Phule Women Forum (a sister organisation of the PVCHR) sent a letter to the DM of Varanasi district demanding basic facilities, including electricity and water supply, adequate housing and agricultural land to the Nat community in Kuwar village. On the same day, Ms. Chamela, Ms. Meena and Ms. Kalawati also sent a letter to the DM of Varanasi district and to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh state.

Twenty one families of the Nat community of Kuwar village including Kalawati's family, however, have not received any response from the local authority so far. It is reported that the village council of Kuwar village still neglect their duty to the villagers.

OTHER RELEVANT FACTS:

Kuwar village is 34 kilometers away from Varanasi district head quarters. The Nat community is more known for their performing art form requiring acrobatic skills. Members of this community with their families roam around places performing acrobatics, particularly using tight ropes. Nats are Dalits and categorised as a Scheduled Caste in India.

All 21 Nat families in Kuwar village faces similar situation as that of Kalawati's family. Only a few members of the 21 families are employed as agricultural labourers. The rest have no proper livelihood. Given that they are living in a rural area but do not have their own land and denied employment as agricultural labourers, they are often forced to beg to survive.

There is no electricity supply provided to the Nat families. There is one hand pump provided to the Nat community. However, the water from the hand pump is not fit for drinking due to the lack of proper drainage facilities. The Nat community is prevented from using other water sources in Kuwar village since the Nats are considered to be untouchables. The water source is believed to be polluted by the upper caste Hindus if a Nat come anywhere near a common water source.

Out of the 21 families, 16 families have AAY ration card. Three families have white ration card, issued for families living below the poverty line.

The Public Distribution System (Control) Order 2001 puts down in law that any person who contravenes any provision of the order will be punished under Section 7 of the Essential Commodities Act (ECA) 1955. The punishment is imprisonment for a term not less than three months which could be extended up to seven years and also a fine.  Furthermore, Session 9 of the ECA 1955 stipulates that if any person makes a false statement in any book, account, record, declaration or other document they shall face imprisonment for a term which may be extended to five years and subject to pay a fine.

The children, who are the most vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition, have no access to a child care centre (Anganwadi Centre; AWC) in the community. The child care centre for Kuwar village is one and half kilometers away from the Nat community, which is located across a highway. This easily explains why the children below six years of age in this poor Nat community do not get any medical attention, such as nutrition or immunisation as well as food through a child care centre.

The AWC is the key in delivering the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) launched by the Indian government. The ICDS targets children aged six years or below. The health workers of the Anganwadi centre have important and direct roles in protecting poor children and women from starvation and ailments related to starvation and malnutrition at the village level. All the ICDS services are provided through the Anganwadi workers in an integrated manner to enhance its impact on child care.

Under the ICDS, the Anganwadi workers should visit the community regularly to carryout health check-ups for the children. Once they identify a malnourished child, the child has to be registered at the Anganwadi centre in order to provide nutrition and health care for the child until the child's condition improves.

It was recently reported by the UNICEF that over 60 percent of children in India are denied adequate child care and malnutrition is identified as one of the commonest reason for child mortality. The report particularly mentions that the children under two years of age are likely to suffer the most from malnutrition. The children from the Nat community in Kuwar village are apparently malnourished with no access to food and immunization facilities provided by the government programme such as ICDS and AWC.

India has ratified the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on July 10, 1979. The right to food, health and housing are fundamental rights in India. However, the realisation of these rights, in particular for the members of the lower caste communities is near to impossible in India. The union government through its various welfare programmes solicits assistance from the state governments to implement the programmes intended to reach the poor across India. However due to the poor level of implementation of these programmes the benefit of the government-sponsored welfare schemes often fails to reach the poor. Kuwar village and the living condition of the Nat community in that village is a perfect example to this.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write to the authorities named below expressing your concern in this Nat community of Kuwar village in Varanasi district. Please take note that Nat community has been ignored by the local government authorities for generations as they are the poorest and Dalit in the village.

The AHRC has also written a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on Right to Food and UN Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty calling for an intervention in this community.

To support this appeal, please click here:

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear __________,

INDIA: Please save 21 Dalit families from hunger and extreme poverty in Kuwar village

Name of victim suffering from hunger:
Ms. Kalawati Nat (age 45) family and 20 other Nat families of Kuwar village, Baragaon Block, Varanasi district, Uttar Pradesh, India
Location: Nat community, Kuwar village, Baragaon Block, Varanasi district, Uttar Pradesh, India

I am writing to express my concern about the living condition of 21 Dalit families who is suffering from hunger and lack of fundamental facilities such as water, housing, sanitation and electricity. They belong to Nat community and are traditionally engaged in performing acrobatics or dance for generations.

I am informed that Ms. Kalawati Nat and her four children in particular face extreme poverty in the community.  It is reported that Kalawati is engaged in begging to support her four children, often going around ten villages a day. Her children collect vegetables left by farmers in the field but are often chased away by the farmers. The family finds it difficult to manage even one meal a day.

I am further informed that Kalawati's family live in an old mud hut. Kalawati's demand for adequate housing, which she is entitled for, is not yet met by the administration. I am informed that Kalawati along with other families from the Nat community living in Kuwar village have applied for housing, but are denied land and house by the government. She is entitled to under the government housing scheme in rural area but was reportedly refused by village head Mr. Rajendra Sonkar and secretary of village council Mr. Ram Raj.

I have learned that all twenty one families face similar situation of poverty. Only a few families are engaged in agricultural labour and others have no proper livelihood. Given that they are living in a rural area but do not have their own land, or are not employed as agricultural labourers, they are often forced to beg.

I am shocked to learn that no electricity has been provided in the Nat community and there is only one hand pump for water in the community, which is not hygienic due to a lack of drainage facilities.

Out of total 21 families, 16 families have AAY ration card for the poorest, and three families have white ration card for the families living below the poverty line. However, I am informed that the ration-shop licensee often under weighs the food grains thereby denying proper distribution of food grains to the poor in Kuwar village.

I am informed that over 60 percent of children in India are denied adequate child care and also suffer from malnutrition, a reason attributed for child mortality in India. There is no child care centre (Anganwari Centre) in Kuwar. The children from the Nat community are apparently malnourished with no access to nutrition and immunisation facilities like the Integrated Child Development Scheme and child care centre.

I am informed that on October 16, 2007 and on November 13, 2007 on the Tehsil day Kalawati along with other members of the Nat community had submitted an application for allowing houses and land under the Indira Awas Yojana. I am also informed that they have sent a letter to the District Magistrate (DM) of Varanasi district calling for government attention to their situation of poverty. But the authorities are yet to initiate any action upon their request.

I therefore, urge you to intervene in this case. The 21 families from the Nat community living in Kuwar must be ensured adequate food immediately through the PDS. The local authorities in Varanasi responsible for Kuwar village must be immediately mobilised to ensure the following in Kuwar village:

1. A health camp must be held at Kuwar village to identify cases of malnutrition.

2. Those persons identified as being malnourished, including children must be provided immediate medical attention.

3. An enquiry must be ordered through the DM's office to ensure the proper functioning of the PDS responsible for Kuwar village.

4. If the ration shop licensee is found to be corrupt, his license must be immediately cancelled and criminal actions must be taken against him.

5. In such a case the running of the ration shop must be ensured either by the state directly managing the shop or by asking the village council to run the shop.

6. The health department officials from the district administration must immediately inspect the living and sanitation conditions of the Nat community in Kuwar to ensure proper drainage facilities in the village.

7. The applications filed by the members of the Nat community in Kuwar for allotment of land and house must be considered favorably immediately and the house and landless provided with land and house immediately.

8. The practice of caste based discrimination among the upper caste Hindus in Kuwar village must be stopped immediately. For this any complaints by the members of the lower caste regarding caste based discrimination from Kuwar village must be immediately investigated and the perpetrators brought to the court without any delay.

9. Last but not least the ICDS and Anganwadi centre responsible for Kuwar must be relocated to a place near the village so that the children from the village could attend the centre every day.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Ms. Mayawati
Chief Minister
Chief Minister's Secretariat
Lucknow
Uttar Pradesh
INDIA
Fax: + 91 522 223 0002 / 223 9234
E-mail: csup@up.nic.in

2. Ms. Meira Kumar
Minister, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment
Sardar Patel Bhawan
Sansad Marg
New Delhi - 110 001
INDIA
Fax: + 91 11 23742133
E-mail: ddpg2-arpg@nic.in

3. Dr. Raghuvansh Prasad Singh
Minister, Ministry of Rural Development
R.No. 197, Krishi Bhawan,
New Delhi
INDIA
Fax: + 91 11 2338 5876
E-mail: singhrp@sansad.nic.in

4. Director
Department of Women Welfare & Child Development
Government of Uttar Pradesh
Jawahar Bhawan, Ashok Marg
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
INDIA
Fax: +91 522 228 6140

5. Commissioner
Varanasi Division
Kutchahry, Varanasi
Uttar Pradesh
INDIA
Fax: +91-542-2282345
E-mail: commvar@up.nic.in

6. UNICEF
73 Lodi Estates
New Delhi 110 003
INDIA
Fax: + 91 11 2462 7521 / 11 2469-1410
E-mail: newdelhi@unicef.org

7. Regional Director
World Food Programme
Unit No. 2, 7th Floor, Wave Place Building
55 Wireless Road
Lumpini, Patumwan
Bangkok 10330
THAILAND
Fax: +66 2 655 4413

8. Country Director
World Food Programme
2 Poorvi Marg, Vasant Vihar,
New Delhi 110057
INDIA
Fax: +91 112 615 0019
E-mail: wfp.newdelhi@wfp.org

Thank you

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

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