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INDIA: Yet another person dies from starvation in Uttar Pradesh

Mr. Teras Ram was aged about 45 years and was a handloom weaver. He is from the Chamar community of Baisa village in Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh state. Due to the decline in the handloom weaving industry, Ram was finding it difficult to make a living from weaving. So Ram started to sell sweets and salt door to door for exchange of old goods. From this he managed about 20 – 25 Rupees (USD 0.5-0.6) a day.

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – HUNGER ALERT PROGRAMME

Hunger Alert Case: AHRC-HAC-001-2008

7 January 2008
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INDIA: Yet another person dies from starvation in Uttar Pradesh

ISSUES: Right to food; caste based discrimination; government neglect
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information regarding the case of Mr. Teras Ram who died from starvation in Baisa village of Jaunpur district in Uttar Pradesh state. The AHRC has been informed by the People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), a local human rights organisation working in Uttar Pradesh state that Ram died from starvation on 24 December 2007. Ram belongs to the Chamar caste, a caste considered to be untouchable by the caste Hindus in India.

CASE DETAILS:

Mr. Teras Ram was aged about 45 years and was a handloom weaver. He is from the Chamar community of Baisa village in Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh state. Due to the decline in the handloom weaving industry, Ram was finding it difficult to make a living from weaving. So Ram started to sell sweets and salt door to door for exchange of old goods. From this he managed about 20 – 25 Rupees (USD 0.5-0.6) a day.

When the PVCHR came to know about Ram's death they contacted Ram's family. Ram's widow Ms. Dhanesara Devi informed the PVCHR that Ram had suffered an injury on his right leg and since then due to lack of treatment Ram was not able to walk anymore. To keep the family alive Dhanesara resorted to begging. She was also managing an additional 120 Rupees (USD 3) per month by washing plates at a neighbor's house.

Ram has two children of which the elder is Mr. Manoj Kumar. He is aged 20 years and working as a manual labourer. However being a member of the Chamar caste, he finds it difficult to get work most days. Even on the days he is employed he is paid 60 Rupees (USD 1.5), which is below the minimum wages declared by the state government. Anju is Ram's daughter and is aged 14 years. She is studying in class IV at the primary school where she is able to manage her food on school days under the mid-day meal scheme.

On Ram's death the family did not have any money for the funeral. The villagers donated some money to the family with which the family managed the funeral. The village head Mr. Ram Jeet Yadav and the village secretary Mr. Hawaldar Yadav visited Ram's house and assured the family that an Antyodaya Anna Yojana card (red card) under the rationing scheme will be issued to the family soon. The card is issued to the poorest of the poor amongst the Below the Poverty Line (BPL) families. It will help the family in the future to obtain subsidised food grains from the local ration shop. However, this offer to Ram's family has come too late to save Ram's life. The PVCHR was informed by Ram's widow that in the past when the family pleaded with the village head for such a help, the village head had refused it on the ground that the Chamar community in the village does not need any help. In the recent past the state government allotted 25 decimal land to Ram's family. But the village head only gave 10 decimal land and kept the rest for himself. The family as of now lives in a thatched house in this property.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

Baisa is a village in Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh state predominantly occupied by the Chamar community. About 175 families reside in the village out of which 90 percent are from the Chamar community. Almost all these families, but for one or two exceptions, are landless. The main source of income for the villagers is from handloom weaving, manual labour and farming. Even though according to the state government records several families are entitled for ration cards in the village, it is alleged that about half of them are not given their cards by the village head. These cards, if issued would entitle the families to receive subsidised food grains through the ration shops. However, the PVCHR is informed that the village head with the connivance of the licensee of the local ration shop has withheld the cards from being distributed to the families to sell the food grains to private restaurants in the black market. This is a common practice in India.

When the PVCHR tried to address the issue of starvation and malnutrition among the villagers, particularly concerning the lower caste families to the village head, Mr. Ram Jeet Yadav, he replied that he is not concerned about the welfare of the untouchables living in his village. He further stated that '…the Chamar in the village has gone mad … [and that he] … have no plans to give them any food which is to be distributed by the village or through the ration shop'.

The PVCHR and the AHRC in the recent past have reported several cases where the village administration and the persons running the village administration practicing caste based discrimination. In most cases the discriminatory practices have led to deaths from starvation. Such discrimination is not unique to Baisa village or to any particular region in Uttar Pradesh state. Caste based discrimination is widely practiced across India, particularly in the North Indian states, which is also euphemistically referred to as the 'cow belt' owing to the predominance of the Hindus living in these regions.

The district as well as the state administration often depends upon the village administration for the implementation of various government welfare programmes. These programmes cover a wide spectrum of services including health cover to distribution of food grains and primary education. Very often, due to caste based discrimination, most of the Dalit households are excluded from these programmes. The most common practice is these families to be ignored by the village administration often leading them to appalling living conditions.

Ram's case is yet another case in a series of appeals and alerts the AHRC in conjunction with its local network groups have issued in the past few years. The issue of hunger and malnutrition, a prominent theme which the AHRC has been taking up these days, particularly from India depicts the extent to which the right to food--a necessary corollary of the right to life--has been denied in India. The lower caste communities in India, particularly the Dalit and other tribal communities being underprivileged and forced to the 'economic bottom line' in India suffer the worst due to the systematic denial of their right to equality, dignity and thus right to life and food.

In the recent past, the AHRC has also come across such discrimination regarding the right to food and also health, practiced against other yet another minority communities like the Muslim handloom weavers in Uttar Pradesh. In that case a large number of handloom weavers in Varanasi district are facing deplorable circumstances, particularly concerning their health. Regarding this the AHRC has issued an open statement titled: Please take immediate actions to help tuberculosis patients in Varanasi - Uttar Pradesh.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write to the authorities mentioned below expressing your concern in this case. Please urge the authorities in India to immediately attend to the living condition of Ram's family. The state government authorities in Uttar Pradesh must immediately attend to the living condition of the lower caste families in Baisa village. The district administration of Jaunpur district must immediately investigate into the allegation against the village head Mr. Ram Jeet Singh who has been denying allotment of ration cards to the villagers.

Corruption in dealing with rationed articles is a crime in India under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. The authority to take actions under this law is the local police and the District Magistrate. The District Magistrate of Jaunpur must be urged to take immediate actions against the allegations of corruption in the public food distribution in the village.

The AHRC is also writing a separate letter to the UN Special rapporteur on the Right to Food calling for an intervention in this case.

To support this appeal, please click here:

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SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear __________,

INDIA: Please take immediate actions to prevent further starvation deaths in Gaisa village in Jaunpur district of Uttar Pradesh state

Name of victim: Mr. Teras Ram, resident of Baisa village, Kerakat administrative block, Jaunpur district, Uttar Pradesh state
Date of incident: 24 December 2007
Place of incident: Baisa village, Kerakat administrative block, Jaunpur district, Uttar Pradesh state

I am writing to voice my concern regarding the case of Mr. Teras Ram who died from starvation in Baisa village of Jaunpur district on 24 December 2007. I am informed that Ram is from the Chamar community which is considered as untouchable by the upper caste Hindus in the village. I am also informed that Ram's family was denied the benefits of all state government sponsored welfare programmes, particularly the ration distribution.

I am informed that the village head of Baisa village is primarily responsible for the non-distribution of rationed articles to the poor. It is suspected that the village head in connivance with the ration shop licensee is selling the rationed articles in the black market thereby denying the poor the ration that the state government has allotted to them. I am further informed that out of the several cards that has to be distributed to the poor in the village, the village head is keeping most of them without distributing the cards to the legally entitled persons in whose name the cards are issued.

I am aware that Ram has left behind his wife and two children of which the youngest is a girl aged 14 years attending school at the Government Primary School in the village. I am concerned about the family and worried whether the family will be forced to continue in their pitiable state due to the discriminatory practices of the village head of Baisa.

I therefore urge you to take immediate steps so that Ram's family receives immediate attention by the Jaunpur district administration and that their immediate concerns regarding receiving an appropriate ration card is met with. I also further urge you to take appropriate actions against the village head of Baisa village and to prosecute him in case he is found to be illegally dealing with rationed articles, denying it to the poor in the village.

I further urge you to take appropriate steps so that the state and central government sponsored welfare programmes for the socially and economically marginalised communities in fact reach the required families in your state. In this context I request you to initiate steps to first figure out how many families in Baisa village in fact require such services and are denied the same due to caste based prejudices. For this, I urge you to order the district administration of Jaunpur to physically be present in the village and meet the families and record their complaints and concerns and also further to report it to the Chief Minister's office through the Office of the Chief secretary for immediate and appropriate action.


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. Secretary to the Government
Uttar Pradesh State Government
5th Floor – Lal Bahadur Sastri Bhavan
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
INDIA

3. The Secretariat
The Right to Food Campaign – India
C/o, PHRN,
5 A, Jungi House
Shahpur Jat, New Delhi-110049
INDIA
E-mail: righttofood@gmail.com 

4. The 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

5. The 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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