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INDIA: Hunger strike protester dies while demanding fairness in food distribution

Mr. Keshaw Ram (age 28) died on 12 February 2009 during a hunger strike held in Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh state (UP). He lived with his mother, his wife and two children in Shivpuri village, Pahala Block in Sitapur district of UP.

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - HUNGER ALERT PROGRAMME

Hunger Alert Case: AHRC-HAC-001-2009



20 February 2009
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INDIA: Hunger strike protester dies while demanding fairness in food distribution

ISSUES: Right to food; corruption
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received the information from the People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) that a young man died of hunger while on a hunger strike held in Varanasi district on 12 February 2009. Until he died, the deceased victim had been demanding issuance of a ration card under the Public Food Distribution System (PDS) which was ignored by local administration. On the other hand, the Assistant Development Officer (ADO) and Station House Officer (SHO) of Phoolpur police station made attempts to stop the hunger strike and even threatened the human rights activists against supporting the poor in Varanasi.

CASE DETAILS:

Mr. Keshaw Ram (age 28) died on 12 February 2009 during a hunger strike held in Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh state (UP). He lived with his mother, his wife and two children in Shivpuri village, Pahala Block in Sitapur district of UP.

On 10 September 2008, Keshaw had applied for an Antyodaya Anna Yojana (AAY) card under the PDS which issues these to the poorest of the poor living below the poverty line. His fair demand was ignored by the village council and block development council dealing with various government welfare schemes for the poor including issuing of ration cards.

Keshaw struggling against hunger and government neglect since then, attended the hunger strike in Pindra Block of Varanasi district organized by Voice of People (VOP). He made an impassioned plea for an AAY card drawing the government's attention during the hunger strike. His pleas fell on deaf ears. Keshav died. There was no food grain found at his home when he died.

Not until his death, did the local administration issue the AAY to his family and 30 kilograms of wheat as well. The land has been allotted and his family was provided INR 100,000 (USD 2,000) from the Chief Minister of UP. However, Keshaw is not the only one who suffered from hunger and food insecurity in his village. There are more than 200 families facing a similar situation. According to the PVCHR, the families are demanding AAY cards, land for housing, land for farming, and other developmental government projects. Despite, the local administration has been consistently ignoring their starvation and poverty.

It is alleged that the local administration neglects its duty of preventing hunger deaths. It not only fails to implement various government policies for the poor, but also attempts to violate their cultural rights. The local government compels the victim's family to cremate the corpse while it is customary for the family and the community to bury the dead.

DETAILS ON HUNGER STRIKE:

The VOP organized a hunger strike on 12 February 2009 in 60 Blocks of 22 districts including Varanasi district in UP. It has been asking for more attention on the issues faced by the marginalized and socially weak groups such as the Dalit community. Despite many written statements to the concerned authorities, the administration failed to respond. The VOP therefore decided to organize a hunger strike with the intention of sending a distress signal to the State government as well as the local administration concerning the food insecurity and absence of basic infrastructure suffered by many villagers. Mr. Vijay Raj Yadav, the District Secretary of VOP had already intimated the Chief Minister of UP and District Magistrate (DM) of Varanasi by post on 23 January 2009.

When the hunger strike was on in the Pindra Block of Varanasi, the DM of Varanasi came and assured the participants that he would fulfill their demands by 17 February. The participants' demands were as follows:

1. Employment under National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA).
2. Pension for the old, the widows, and the handicapped.
3. Installation of hand-pumps and construction of roads in the villages inhabited
by marginalized communities.
4. Implementation of family welfare schemes.
5. Construction of houses for the villagers living below poverty line.

All these demands are nothing new. They are all government schemes to ensure the right to food and to prevent hunger deaths in India, which is enshrined in Supreme Court Order 2005 on the right to food. What the people were demanding was that the government implements these promises which had so far remained on paper.

Instead, the Assistant Development Officer (ADO), Pindra Panchayat pressurized the protesters to call off the hunger strike. The protesters did not succumb to the pressure and continued their hunger strike expecting the District Magistrate to honour his promise. Moreover, although the strike was peaceful, the Station House Officer (SHO) of Phoolpur police station Mr. R N Pandey attached to Pindra Block also threatened the protesters with dire consequences and insisted that the human rights activists call off the strike.

The SHO of Phoolpur police station has slapped false charges against the human rights activists of the PVCHR. The Phoolpur police often threaten them and withdraw their support to the poor, thereby violating the right to freedom of speech and expression. For the previous appeals regarding the Phoolpur police' violent action against human rights activities, please see AHRC-UAU-007-2008, AHRC-UAU-004-2008, and UA-305-2007.

The intimidation of the local police and the negligence of local administration illustrate their unwillingness to prevent hunger deaths and ensure the food security in India. Rather, they attempt to conceal the true picture of hunger and poverty, and force the human rights activists to be silent.

Till date, on 18 February 2009, thirteen protesters of Pindra Block of Varanasi district continue to struggle for these demands while the local administration consistently ignores its duty.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please send a letter to the authorities mentioned below expressing your concern about hunger deaths in Varanasi. Please take a note that not until the death of a protester, did the local government take any action for the poor suffering from food insecurity.

The AHRC has also written a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food calling for intervention.

To support this appeal, please click here:

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear __________,

INDIA: Please stop hunger deaths in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh

Name of victim: Mr. Keshaw Ram (age 28), a resident of Shivpuri village, Pahala Block, Sitapur district, Uttar Pradesh
Relevant government officials and authorities:
1. Chief Minister of UP
2. DM of Varanasi district, UP
3. DM of Sitapur district, UP
4. Pahala Block development Authority, Sitapur district, UP
Name of persons threatening human rights activists and attempting to halt the hunger strike:
1. Mr. Ashok Singh, the Assistant Development Officer (ADO) of Pindra Block Council (Pindra Panchayat), Varanasi district, UP
2. Mr. R N Pandey, Station House Officer (SHO) of Phoolpur police station, Pindra Block, Varanasi district, UP

I am writing to express my concern about the victim who died of hunger during hunger strike in Varanasi of Uttar Pradesh, on 12 February 2009. Mr. Keshaw Ram, the deceased victim lived in Pahala Block, Sitapur district of UP.

I am informed that the deceased victim attended the hunger strike organized by the Voice of People (VOP) on that day. He had been suffering from starvation and demanding an AAY card earmarked for the poorest of the poor living below the poverty line, in order to buy the rations subsidized by the government and sold at a cheaper price.

I am informed that on 10 September 2008 Keshaw had applied for an AAY card, which was denied by the village council. Since then, he had to starve and was compelled to join the hunger strike. The hunger strike was an attempt to raise an alarm about hunger and starvation faced by more than 200 villagers. The victim was desperate due to the fact that the local administration neither made available the government welfare schemes for the poor nor paid attention to their suffering. There was no food found at the victim's home when he died.

I have learned that not until he died, did the local government issues the AAY card to his family along with a meager 30 kilograms of wheat. The government also provided land and relief fund for the family which was came out all after his death.

I have studied that various forms of government schemes for the poor are enshrined in Supreme Court Order on the right to food (2005) in order to prevent hunger deaths as well as ensure food security in India. However, no government seems to have the willingness to prevent hunger deaths.

On the contrary, the Assistant Development Officer of Pindra Block Panchayat forced the peaceful demonstrators to call off their strike.

Although the strike was conducted in a peaceful manner, the Station House Officer (SHO) of Phoolpur police station Mr. R N Pandey attached to Pindra Block also threatened the participants and human rights activists to stop the strike. Both, the local administration and the police violate the right to freedom of speech and expression. I am aware that the Phoolpur police station has imposed false charges on the human rights activists, threatening and interrupting their support for the poor.

In Pindra Block of Varanasi district, thirteen participants are still on a hunger strike calling for the government's attention and immediate action to prevent hunger deaths and ensure food security for the poor.

I, therefore, request you to take the following actions:

1. Provide all government welfare schemes including ration cards and land for the deceased victim's family and other families facing the same hunger situation in Pahala Block of Sitapur district without any delay;

2. Fulfill the demands of the hunger strikers so as to ensure food security for the poor in Varanasi;

3. Punish those who neglect their duty of preventing hunger deaths and implement the government schemes for the poor, the absence of which causes hunger deaths, and;

4. Punish the local administrative officials and police officials violating the right to freedom of speech and expression and even threatening the participants to stop the hunger strike.

I will keep monitoring the hunger strike and the government response.

I am looking forward to your immediate action and more attention on this issue.

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. Justice Mr. Balakrishnan
Chief Justice of India
Through the Office of the Registrar General
Supreme Court of India
1 Tilak Marg, New Delhi
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 2338 3792
E-mail: supremecourt@nic.in

3. Ms. Meira Kumar
Minister, Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment
Sardar Patel Bhawan
Sansad Marg
New Delhi - 110 001
INDIA
Fax: + 91 11 2374 2133
E-mail: ddpg2-arpg@nic.in

4. Commissioner
Varanasi Division
Kutchahry, Varanasi
Uttar Pradesh
INDIA
Fax: +91 542 228 2345
E-mail: commvar@up.nic.in

5. Mr. Sanjay Kumar
District Magistrate
Sitapur District
Uttar Pradesh
INDIA
Fax: +91 5862 242 615
E-mail: sit@up.nic.in

6. Director General of Police
1-Tilak Marg, Lucknow
Uttar Pradesh
INDIA
Fax: + 91 522 220 6120 / 522 220 6174
E-mail: police@up.nic.in

7. 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@ahrc.asia)

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