Ranchi: Jharkhand has already witnessed several alleged starvation deaths between the years 2017 to 2019 because of the callousness of the previous regime. Thanks to the ongoing lockdown, it is again on the verge of witnessing a repeat of the same.
A five-year-old girl, Nimani, resident of Laterhar district in Jharkhand died allegedly of starvation on May 16, say locals.
Right to Food members of Jharkhand chapter who shared the news on social media first and later with various media organizations informed that Nimani was the daughter of a Dalit couple Jaglal Bhuiyan and Kalawati Devi. The family had eight children, the eldest being 13 years of age and the youngest being 4 months old.
But, the family has neither ration card, nor land. All 10 family members are visibly undernourished.
Jaglal is a brick kiln worker in Sukulkhut (near Latehar). Two of his kids also work in the same kiln to eke out a living.
He along with his two kids had visited his family during the Holi festival. And that was the last time that he could give some money to his wife. He left for Sukulkhut on May 17 and following which he and his kids have not been able to go back home, because of the ongoing lockdown. At the brick kiln, he and the two children get food, but they are not paid their wages. He is expecting to be paid around June when the brick-making season ends. Hence, he was unable to send any money home for the last two months (preciously the lockdown period in India).
His house, a run-down two-room mud house with a big hole in the roof, is bare of any belongings except for a few utensils, some bedding, and a torn mosquito net.
It is here from where Kalawati has been struggling to feed her children. With her household running out of ration most of the time and no money in hand, the government also failed her. Her Jan Dhan Account was credited with Rs 500 only once. She got some relief from school and Anganwadi, who provided her with a small amount of food or cash.
Kalawati and her children were surviving mainly by borrowing money or food from her neighbourhood household. When RTF members asked Kalawati what she and her children had been eating for the last few days, she broke down and said, “What can we eat when there is nothing to eat?”
Both Kalawati and the neighbours maintained that Nimani was not suffering from any illness, when she fell unconscious and died on May 16. Kalawati was mentioned that her daughter has also vomited earlier that day.
The local Anganwadi worker, Asha Devi, mentioned that Nimani had bathed in the river in the hot mid-day sun and that perhaps she had been struck by “loo” (heatwave), or something of that sort.
However, RTF members claim that this does contradict the view, expressed by most other witnesses (including Nimani’s parents and neighours), that starvation was the main reason for her death.
They further informed that Gopal Oraon, “mukhiyapati” of Donki GP (Parvati Devi, his wife, is the mukhiya), came to Jaglal and Kalawati’s house at noon on May 17 and confirmed that no rice had been given to them from the Rs 10,000 contingency fund kept by mukhiyas for that purpose. He said that the fund had run out and that the mukhiya had formally written to the BDO for a second installment, without success.
Local PDS dealer, Ishwari Prasad Gupta, said that there was no provision to distribute rice to households without a ration card unless they have applied online for a ration card. He has received a list of 7 such households, which are provided with 10 kg of rice every month. He said that he had prepared a list of 64 other households in Hesatu and Naihara that have no ration cards and has even sent the list to the BDO, but so far no provision has been made for them.
A Sahiya Radha Devi also revealed to the RTF team that one Subedar Bhuiyan had come to her in the afternoon of May 16 May told her that Ninami had fallen unconscious due to hunger. He said that she had not eaten for three days. She advised them to take Nimani to a health centre. By the time she visited them, Nimani was no more.
Between the years 2017 to 2019, at least 23 alleged starvation deaths had taken place in Jharkhand, mainly because of the cancellation of ration cards due to non-linking of it with Aadhar.
During the lockdown, in April also, one more alleged starvation death had been reported.