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UPDATE (India): Call for more attention on handloom weaver community where five children died of malnutrition in Varanasi

We had warned that thirteen children were suffering from acute malnutrition and had asked the relevant government authorities in Varanasi district as well as Uttar Pradesh to take action. Soon after that report, a two-year-old boy Shahabuddin out of thirteen children at risk died of malnutrition (AHRC-HAC-008-2008 and AHRC-HAU-001-2008).

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - HUNGER ALERT PROGRAMME

Hunger Alert Update: AHRC-HAU-002-2009



5 March 2009

[RE: AHRC-HAU-001-2008: INDIA: UPDATE (India): Boy suffering from malnutrition dies; 13 others remain at serious risk]
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INDIA: Call for more attention on handloom weaver community where five children died of malnutrition in Varanasi

ISSUES: Right to food; right to health; malnutrition; government neglect; corruption
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) had reported that a two-year-old child had died of malnutrition on May 31, 2008 and thirteen other children were facing the same fate in Dhannipur village, Varanasi district. In fact, five children died of malnutrition in the village within seven months since then. Despite of the intervention and relief from the local government, the weavers have difficulty to get rations at Public Food Distribution System (PDS) shop and suffer from lack of hygiene water supply facility. The neglect and the corruption of the relevant government officers causing child malnutrition deaths remain unpunished.

UPDATED INFORMATION:

We had warned that thirteen children were suffering from acute malnutrition and had asked the relevant government authorities in Varanasi district as well as Uttar Pradesh to take action. Soon after that report, a two-year-old boy Shahabuddin out of thirteen children at risk died of malnutrition (AHRC-HAC-008-2008 and AHRC-HAU-001-2008).

After Shahabuddin died, the Dhannipur village council gave 25 kilogrammes of rice and INR1000 (USD 19.4) as immediate relief. The AAY ration card under the Public Food Distribution System (PDS) which is issued to the poorest families below the poverty line (BPL) was also issued to the victim's family.

Despite the fact that the other malnourished children were taken to the Community Health Centre and the District Magistrate (DM) and Chief Medical Officer (CMO) had subsequently visited the village, another two-year-old child Shaheena Parveen died of malnutrition on 5 July 2008. Thereafter on 29 July, two and half-year-old Imaran died of malnutrition. Again, two-year-old Mohammad Isharak died of malnutrition on 8 November.

Not until four children had died of malnutrition in the village, did the local administration take significant action in the matter. The entire village, in particular the handloom weaver community is facing starvation and loss of children due to malnutrition.

The BPL ration card (white card) was issued to all fourteen families whose children were malnourished and the PDS shop was opened 500 meter away from the community. Ten kilogrammes of wheat were distributed to about fifty families by way of immediate assistance. Health camps were organised three times and an Anganwadi Centre for the Integrated Child Development System (ICDS) was set up to provide nutrients and vaccines to cater to the health care of the children.

For the first time in the community, basic facilities such as hand-pumps for water supply, electricity, Roller Compacted Concrete (RCC) road, public sanitation etc. were initiated. Meanwhile, another four-month-old child Shabeena died of malnutrition in the village.

Among the five victims' families, only two victims' families received INR 1000 as an immediate relief. The AAY ration card was issued to four families while one was given the white card. The families who were provided with ration card to collect rations at the PDS shop at a cheaper price subsidised by the government, still face difficulties in getting rice and wheat.

According to them, the shopkeeper neither records it in his register nor in their ration cards. This leaves ample scope to alter the records later. Further, the shopkeeper charges the card holders INR 10 as loading charges, and allegedly cheats them on weights as well. This is a crime under the Essential Commodity Act 1955. The ration card holders think that the shop will be closed soon since the problems are recognized. Apart from the fourteen families who have been issued ration cards, there are many other community members suffering from hunger who do not have any ration card.

There is an allegation against the village council. Only two out of fourteen hand pumps provided for the village by the government are installed in the victims' community. The supply of adequate drinking water is one of the keys preventing disease and ensuring food security.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

Given the fact that the village council and Block council are in charge of the welfare and development of the village, and is a basic social unit to take care of malnutrition and death of the children in the village, it is apparent that the village council used to exclude the children suffering from malnutrition as well as the poor. Dhannipur village is mostly occupied with handloom weavers facing serious economic crisis for decades since the handloom weaving industry declined due to cheap product from power-loom weavers or China.

The response to the child victims' families by the village council and Block council also explains its lack of responsibility as well as coherent and obvious counter plan to get the victims released. In particular, the way they issue the ration card has not reflected the living condition of the poor. This also explains why no relevant officer visits the community. Moreover, the PDS shopkeeper's unlawful management is not monitored at all. Despite their neglect causing food insecurity, no one was punished for its neglect of duty and corruption.

Although thirteen children had been taken to the public health institution after one boy died at first, the public health system failed to save another four children even after they were found to be malnourished.

Dhannipur village is declared as a special village by the district government after five children's deaths. On the one hand, the village is being improved with construction of basic infrastructure, but on the other hand, five victims' families and others in the same community have no substantial improvement in their living condition.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write a letter to express your concern about the handloom weaver community of Dhannipur village.

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

To support this appeal, please click here:

SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear __________,

INDIA: Please take stronger measures to stop malnutrition deaths

Children who died of malnutrition:
1. Shahabuddin, two years old, son of Mohammad Idrish, died on May 31, 2008
2. Shaheena Parveen, two years old, daughter of Rustam, died on July 7, 2008
3. Imran, two and half years old, son of Shahid, died on July 29, 2008
4. Mohammad Isharak, two years old, son of Mohammad Rahim, died on November 8, 2008
5. Shabeena Bano, four months old, died on December 26, 2008
Other affected people: Handloom weavers in Dhannipur village, under jurisdiction of Kashi Vidya Peeth Development Block, Varanasi district, Uttar Pradesh
Relevant government authorities who neglect their duty:
1. Village council (Panchayat) of Dhannipur village including village head
2. Primary Health Centre and Community Health Center for Dhannipur village
The alleged person violating right to food: PDS shopkeeper in Dhannipur village
Location: Handloom weaver community in Dhannipur village, under jurisdiction of Kashi Vidya Peeth Development Block, Varanasi district, Uttar Pradesh

I am writing to express my concern about the handloom weavers who lost five children due to malnutrition within seven months in Dhannipur village of Varanasi district.

I have learned that the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) had reported that a two-year-old child died of acute malnutrition in May 2008 and thirteen children were identified as malnourished at that time. Despite the fact that all the children were taken to the public hospital, four more children died of malnutrition after that. It is very shameful to hear that the public health system totally failed to prevent child malnutrition deaths.

I am informed that not until the five children died, were the AAY ration cards under the Public Food Distribution System (PDS) issued to the weavers suffering from hunger. As it has been earlier reported by the AHRC, handloom weavers in Varanasi are exposed to food insecurity and unemployment as the weaving industry gets clogged cheap products either from power-loom weavers or China. Nevertheless, these malnutrition deaths reflect the fact that the government is indifferent to their sad plight.

After all these deaths, the relevant government authorities provided ration cards, a PDS shop and a Child Care centre (Anganwari center) to ensure food security and child health care in the village. At the same time, they initiated construction of infrastructure such as water pumps, electric supply and roads.

However, I am informed that only four of the victims' families got AAY card which is issued to the poorest among below the poverty line family while one of them got a white card. I am further informed that there are many weavers who do not have any ration card. Moreover, the PDS shopkeeper does not record of food distribution either on his register or on the card holders' card. It is alleged that he under weighs the ration assigned and even charges INR 10 as loading charges. I am aware that this is a crime under the Essential Commodities Act 1955.

I have also learned that the relevant government authority including village council did not provide equal and sufficient assistance to all the victims, which explains that there is no coherent and immediate system to apply to all the victims in order to prevent the malnutrition death and ensure the food security. Only two out of twelve hand pumps allocated by the local government were given to the community. There is no drainage system and proper sanitation facility causes disease thereby affecting on food security.

I am of the opinion that the relevant authorities consistently neglect their duty of preventing malnutrition deaths and providing immediate relief to the victims. However, no one has been punished for neglect and corruption for malnutrition deaths.

I am glad to hear that the village is declared as a special village by the local government authority to ensure their food security and to improve their living condition. On the other hand, the substantial change has yet to come to the weavers including the victims' families since they do not have proper work for a living.

In the light of this, I urge you to ensure these;

1. Please investigate into the record, unlawful management at the PDS shop. If any corruption thing is found, please take actual action on it and arrange a real fair shop for the poor.

2. Please pay attention to other weavers' living condition in the community and issue more ration cards

3. Please provide more hand pumps and drainage system to the community which is essential to ensure food security and health care

4. Please pay attention to the weavers' economic crisis to ensure their food security in a sustainable manner

5. Please punish the public servants who neglected their duty of preventing malnutrition deaths and ensuring food security

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. 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

2. 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

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. 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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