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India: Starving to Death, Begging for Life

Tarun Kanti Bose

Sarvapalli Ghoshpara (Jalangi): On April 16, 2005, 40-year-old Neksad Ali Mollah of Ghoshpara Sarvapalli village in Jalangi died after a prolonged battle with starvation. Penniless and landless, his widow Nujera Bewa languishes in poverty with her three young children.

Eight months have passed since her husband’s death but she has still not got any relief from the Panchayat. Her 12-year-old daughter Bulbul Khatun who studied in standard V, worked as a domestic help before going to school. When we visited them, her son Rubbel Mollah, and youngest daughter, Sonia were haplessly staring into their mother’s tear-stained face.

Through her tears, Nujera Bewa whispered: “My husband was suffering from bronchial asthma. He was afflicted by this chronic ailment, about five years back. He was the sole breadwinner of our family but his breathlessness eventually forced him to stay indoors. When his breathlessness worsened they had to administer him an injection. I was forced to beg to pay for his treatment. But, I could not provide him with food and medicine. I begged from door to door but could not save my husband.”

When asked what help if any, she received from the Panchayat she said: “I approached Mokshad Shiekh, Member of the Gram Panchayat and a CPI(M) functionary, for some relief. But he only told me that the ‘stock’ was finished and I needed to come again. I made the same request from Panchayat Pradhan Santosh Roy but he also turned me down” cried Nujera Bewa.

Begging was the only option left for them

In the village, we meet Anwara Bewa, whose 75-year-old mother, Jhaatumon Bewa, died of starvation on March 15, 2005. She told us: “After Padma River swallowed our farmland and home, my brothers migrated to other cities to earn a living. My other sisters also married and moved away. Begging was the only option left for my mother and myself.

Earlier, during the harvest season, we worked in other people’s fields. But the river erosion destroyed those fields and pushed us to destitution. My maternal uncle tried to feed us but he could not help us for long as his family was also going through difficult times. Eventually my mother fell sick due to continuous starvation and helpless to do anything, I was forced to silently watch her die before my eyes.”

“We live near the house of Panchayat Pradhan, Santosh Roy. Many times I told him about our dire circumstances and begged him to help us. But all my requests fell on the deaf ears of the Panchayat Pradhan,” alleged Anwara Bewa.

When asked about what relief was afforded to the starving families in the villages, Santosh Roy the Panchayat Pradhan and CPI(M) functionary said: “This is all propaganda by the media to destabilise CPI(M) from power. Nobody has died of starvation. If these are starvation deaths, then there are such deaths in many parts of the country. We do not take this seriously. It’s the same in Kalahandi in Orissa. In Kalahandi, starvation victims do not get any relief. So how can they think they will get relief here”?

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