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INDIA: Government's neglect and corruption drives a 30 year-old Dalit woman to death through starvation

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) draws your attention to the starvation death of a 30-year-old woman belonging to the Scheduled Caste (known as 'untouchables' or 'Dalits') in Jabalpur district, Madhya Pradesh. According to the field research by Jay Shiksha Kendra and the Right to Food Support Group, all the members of the family, including the victim, could barely manage to obtain half a piece of Indian bread per day during the last month. The deceased victim did not eat any food for four days before she died on December 16, 2009. Despite of this, to date, no government programmes targeting the poor have reached the family.

Hunger Alert Case: AHRC-HAC-001-2010



6 January 2010
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INDIA: Government's neglect and corruption drives a 30 year-old Dalit woman to death through starvation

ISSUES: Right to food; starvation; corruption; government neglect
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Dear Friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) draws your attention to the starvation death of a 30-year-old woman belonging to the Scheduled Caste (known as 'untouchables' or 'Dalits') in Jabalpur district, Madhya Pradesh. According to the field research by Jay Shiksha Kendra and the Right to Food Support Group, all the members of the family, including the victim, could barely manage to obtain half a piece of Indian bread per day during the last month. The deceased victim did not eat any food for four days before she died on December 16, 2009. Despite of this, to date, no government programmes targeting the poor have reached the family.

CASE DETAIL (according to the affidavit and official document of post-mortem on the deceased signed by 17 villagers):

Kumari Sunita, a 30-year-old woman, died of starvation on December 16, 2009. She lived with three other family members in Majhgawan village, Sehora Block, Jabalpur district, Madhya Pradesh.

When Sunita died, it was discovered that there was nothing in their house to eat, but for a small amount of maize and dry leaves of gram. Her father, Ganesh Prasad, has one acre of land which he has leased from Mr. Guddu Baba for INR 7,000 (USD 151) for the last six years. The family finds it difficult to obtain sufficient food from farming alone and Sunita and her father worked as tendu leaf pluckers in the bidi industry, manufacturing bidi tobacco.

Sunita and Ganesh made 2000 bidis during the season, for which they were paid merely 50 rupees (USD one). It is much less than the minimum wage per day (65 rupees in the agricultural sector and 93 rupees in other sectors in Madhya Pradesh). Moreover, given the fact that the tendu and bidi industry has been nationalized by the state government since 1964, it shows the government neglect in enforcing adequate working conditions including wages.

Therefore, the family had no other choice but to try to get food through begging. However from this, they have only managed to get half a piece of Indian bread (roti) per day for the last month. As a consequence, Sunita became severely malnourished and did not have any food for four days before she died.

Despite of these living conditions, the government has not identified the family as a Below the Poverty Line (BPL) family for the past five years. Moreover, Sunita's brother, Santu (26 years old) is mentally disabled which should give them priority to get an AAY ration card - issued to the poorest in accordance with the Supreme Court Order dated 2nd May 2003. The Supreme Court Order states that a household with a disabled adult and no assured means of subsistence should be given an AAY ration card. Despite consistent demands from the family, the local authority ignored them.

Other government programmes aiming to guarantee the right to food have never reached the family. The government has not provided 100 days employment for Sunita's family, who holds a job card issued under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), nor has it provided a pension for the disabled Santu.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

In Majhgawan village there are 2,140 families mostly comprised of members of the Kol tribe and Scheduled Caste (SC, legal parlance for Dalits). 464 families hold BPL cards while 271 families hold AAY cards under the Public Food Distribution System (PDS). The cardholders can afford to buy rice and wheat at the government-subsidized price.

The tribal families in the village depend on the bidi industry, whereas around 300 SC families are traditionally engaged in water chestnut production. However, water chestnut production has declined due to decreased rainfall in the last few years. Tendu leaf collection in the bidi industry is mainly carried out from April to June. These two main livelihoods make it difficult for the Kol tribe and the SC to obtain sufficient food for the year.

The field research conducted by the Right to Food Group, after Sunita's death, discloses that a number of the families are deprived of their fundamental rights such as the right to food. In particular eight families among them need immediate assistance as they are not receiving any food support due to not being identified as BPL families. There is serious and well-founded concern that these families also may face the same situation as Sunita's family. The families concerned are:

1. Mastram Chamar, son of Sevaram Chamar, landless SC family
2. Shantibai Kol, wife of late Sunderlal Kol, tribal widow
3. Makesh Prasad Kol, son of Kakku Kol, tribal family
4. Santosh Gotiya, son of Ramprasad Gotiya, tribal family
5. Ajay Gotiya, son of Jawahar Gotiya, tribal family
6. Kunjan Nagrath, 65 year-old, a tribal old person with no income source
7. Omkaar Naai, son of Rambisal Naai, Other Backward Class (OBC) family
8. Dayaram Bhumia, tribal family

On the contrary, it was also discovered that Mr. Manoj Dahiya, son of the village head, holds an AAY ration card for which he is not entitled. It is alleged that the village head, by abusing his power, fabricated the record for the BPL survey to provide his son with the AAY card. Corruption in the BPL survey by public servants, such as the village head, was reported in the previous hunger general.

Even the social audit, functioning as a monitoring body organized along with NGOs and the village communities, failed to raise the issues of the village. Although the social audit was held in Majhgawan panchayat last year, no community was informed to attend it. According to the social audit report (No. 173300165) dated on 27 August 2009, neither issues nor grievances relating to the NREGA were found in the village. However, as a matter of fact, for the past two years no villagers have obtained the benefit of 100 days employment, under the NREGA, which is one of the main government programmes ensuring right to food.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please write a letter to express your deep concern about Sunita, who died of starvation, and her family who are deprived of the right to food and have been excluded from government programmes for the poor. Please also note that other villagers belonging to the tribal community and Dalits in the village are confronting similar exclusion due to the corruption of public servants.

The AHRC has also written a separate letter calling for intervention, to the Chief Justice of India and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.
To support this appeal please click here:

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SAMPLE LETTER:

Dear __________,

Re: INDIA: Government's neglect and corruption drove 30 year-old woman to death through starvation

The deceased victim: Kumari Sunita Burman (30 years old), daughter of Ganesh Prasad Burman, Scheduled Caste (SC) family, lived in in Majhgawan village, Sehora Block, Jabalpur district, Madhya Pradesh.
Other villagers who are excluded from provision of ration card for the poor:
1. Mastram Chamar, son of Sevaram Chamar, landless SC family
2. Shantibai Kol, wife of late Sunderlal Kol, tribal widow
3. Makesh Prasad Kol, son of Kakku Kol, tribal family
4. Santosh Gotiya, son of Ramprasad Gotiya, tribal family
5. Ajay Gotiya, son of Jawahar Gotiya, tribal family
6. Kunjan Nagrath, 65 year-old, a tribal old person with no income source
7. Omkaar Naai, son of Rambisal Naai, Other Backward Class (OBC) family
8. Dayaram Bhumia, tribal family
Location: Majhgawan village, Sehora Block, Jabalpur district, Madhya Pradesh
Time: 16 December 2009

I am writing to express my deep concern at the death of Kumari Sunita, a 30-year-old woman, who died of starvation on December 16, 2009. Sunita lived with three other family members in Majhgawan village, Sehora Block, Jabalpur district, Madhya Pradesh.

According to the fact finding research conducted by Jay Shiksha Kendra and the Right to Food Support Group, when Sunita died there was nothing to eat in their house but a small amount of maize and dry leaves of gram.

I am informed that her father, Ganesh Prasad, has one acre of land, leased from Mr. Guddu Baba at INR 7,000 (USD 151) for the last six years. However, the family finds it difficult to obtain sufficient food from farming alone and Sunita and her father worked as tendu leaf pluckers in the bidi industry, manufacturing tobacco.

I have learned that Sunita and Ganesh made 2000 bidis during the season, for which they were paid merely 50 rupees (USD 1.08) which is much less than the minimum wage per day (65 rupees in agricultural sector and 93 rupees in other sectors in Madhya Pradesh). Moreover, given the fact that the tendu and bidi industry has been nationalized, by the state government since 1964, it shows that the government has seriously neglected to enforce adequate working conditions including wages.

Sunita's family had to get food from begging from which they only managed to get half a piece of roti per day for last one month. As a consequence, Sunita got severely malnourished and did not have any food grain for four days before her death from starvation.

I am appalled to learn that, despite these living conditions, that for the past five years the government has not identified Sunita's family as being Below the Poverty Line (BPL). Moreover, Sunita's brother, Santu (26 years old) is mentally disabled which should give them priority to get an AAY ration card - issued to the poorest in accordance with the Supreme Court Order dated 2nd May 2003. The order states that a household with a disabled adult and no assured means of subsistence should be given an AAY ration card. Despite consistent demands from the family, the local authority ignored them.

I am further informed that other government programmes aiming to guarantee the right to food have never reached the family. The government neither provides employment for Sunita's family, who hold a job card issued under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), nor provides pension for the disabled Santu.

I am of the opinion that the government's neglect led to the starvation death of Sunita whose family have never received any benefits from the government programmes for the poor despite the fact that the family does not have assured means for survival. This neglect is not only seen in Sunita's family but also in other villagers who are not identified as BPL families despite their extreme poverty.

In addition to this, I have learned that no villagers have received benefits of 100 days employment for the last two years and the social audit regarding the right to work, held in 2009, failed to raise issues and the villagers' grievances. It is alleged that the village panchayat did not inform the villagers about the social audit which resulted in no information about their dire circumstances being given to the auditors, and also that the village panchayat did not inform the villagers of their right to food and work under the government NREGA scheme. It is further alleged that the corruption of the village head is reflected in the fact that his son Mr. Manoj Dahiya holds an AAY ration card for the poorest despite his son not being entitled.

I therefore, urge you to take immediate and decisive action for Sunita's family and other villagers who are deprived of their fundamental rights and excluded from the government programmes ensuring the right to food. Furthermore, I strongly urge you to investigate and punish the relevant public servants who are responsible for failing to protect the fundamental rights.

Prompt action for the victims and for the punishment for the duty bearers are decisive ways to ensure the right to food and prevent starvation deaths in the village.

I look forward to your positive response.

Yours sincerely,

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Krishna Tirath
Minister of Women and Child Development
Government of India
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 2331 4788
E-mail: krishnatirath@yahoo.in

2. Principal Secretary
Ministry of Health & Family Welfare
Nirman Bhavan
Maulana Azad Road
New Delhi - 110011
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 2306 1751
E-mail: hfm@alpha.nic.in

3. Alka Sirohi
Secretary
Department of Food and Public Distribution
Government of India
INDIA
Fax: +91 11 2338 6052
E-mail: secy-food@nic.in

4. Mr. Shivraj Singh Chouhan
Chief Minister
Madhya Pradesh
INDIA
Fax: +91 755 2441781

5. R. C. Sahni
Chief Secretary
Government of Madhya Pradesh
Mantralaya
Bhopal 462 004
Madhya Pradesh
INDIA
Fax: +91 755 2441751
E-mail: cs@vallabh.mp.nic.in

6. Hari Ranjan Rao
District Collector
Office of the District Collector
Jabalpur District
Madhya Pradesh, India

7. Chairperson
National Human Rights Commission
Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg
New Delhi 110001
INDIA
Fax + 91 11 2338 6521
E-mail: chairnhrc@nic.in

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

9. Mr. He ChangChui
Regional Representative
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
Maliwan Mansion
Phra Atit Road
Bangkok 10200, Thailand
Fax: +66 2 697 4445
Email: FAO-RAP@fao.org

Thank you.

Hunger Alert Programme (foodjustice@ahrc.asia)
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

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