Death Better Than Life For Mushahars Of Kushingar
By Vidya Bhushan
20 December, 2006
was another visit last week which left me exasperated, shocked and helpless
as why the government, civil society and the concerned citizens have
failed to address the issue of hunger, malnutrition and starvation.
While politicians in Uttar-Pradesh are preparing for polls, the Mushahars,
Bansfors and other such marginalized communities think of meal next
day. There are many houses where people do not eat for many days, some
time over a week. It is wintertime and one has to see to believe how
chilling it is in the eastern Part of Uttar-Pradesh. With out any quilt
or warm cloths, the children, aged people burn dry leaves which some
time become their funeral pyre. The thatched hut catches fire very easily.
But what happen if the hut catches fire? The officials go after a long
week and might give them a thousand rupees or some kerosene and grains
and get rid of their duty.
The energy of the organizations
is more on bringing the people into the temples despite the known fact
that the god is not going to give the poor anything. In fact, the God
is there to take away whatever little they have. The same energy and
publicity does not come for the rescue of those who are facing severe
hunger and malnutrition. Some say that god loves the poor and that is
why these deaths are happening in the Mushahar belt, perhaps the poorest
of the poor. The fear of god is so much that people have given their
children such names, which add to their humiliation. So we have names
(saleable), Kukkur ( dog),
Thug ( You know well). It is these names deliberately suggested by the
priests so that they can do away with evil spirit. Poor Mushahrs are
doing everything to do away with the evil spirit and nothing happen.
We have huge boards of the 'valiant ' ' Hindu Yuva Vahini' of Swami
Adiyta Nath, famous man from Gorakhpur who has been organizing the 'Hindus'
against the possible threat of 'Islam' and 'Christianity'. Buddhists
are busy for organizing the 2550 years of Buddha's parinirawana and
crores of rupees will be spend in Kushingar itself but none of them
have time to spare a moment and visit these villages where people continue
to die and children continue to suffer.
It has been for more than
four-five years that this region has seen alarming preposition of hunger
related deaths. Then there is this strange brain fever and Kalajwar
which comes to kill the Mushahar children. The thugs are active here
to tell the people against the polio drops to be given to the children
under the pretext that it would hurt.
Social Development Foundation
has been raising the issue of hunger in this region and working constantly
with the local groups and community organizations in these regions.
We are providing you a few incidents of hunger during past few months,
which reflect the grim nature of the problem. These incidents also shows
how the government schemes have failed to change the life of people
as there is lack of sincerity on part of the officials and authorities
responsible to implement them. This apart, the deadly Japanese encephalitis
(brain fever) has again targeted the children and according to newspaper
reports more than 30 children have died so far in the area.
Landlessness is one of the
reasons for hunger
Bikau 26 years old Mushahar
used to live in Jamunhiya Tola of Dumri khash village in Chauri Chaura
district, with his 70 years old mother and other family members. He
used to get Rs 10/- per day for working in a private school in the village.
The family also worked as agricultural labour but many days there was
no work. The family did not have any ration card. The family was living
in hunger with no cooking for many days. Finally Bikau died on 19 th
Banshi s/o Thug, age 60 years
Pipra Bujurg, Padrauna died on October 26th , 2006. He fell ill because
of malnutrition and finally succumbed to his disease.
Jhagaru s/o Sanwaru aged
55, village Basdila, khadda, Kushinagar, died of financial constraints.
He was suffering from various ailments and had to mortgage his land
to some one to get medical treatment. He did not have anything to buy.
Due to his inability to work, he remained starved for many days and
Marchchia w/o Shyam Lal,
age 50 years died on 21st November 2006. She was living with her younger
son and did not have an Antyodaya card. Family sources said that they
did not cook any food for over 4 days. The cremation was done with the
help of villagers.
Kamlawati, Mauna Garhwa,
Bhagalpur Block, Deoria died on November 28th, 2006
Narayan Dom, 45 s/o Ganesh,
village Dudhai, GP Chaf, Kushinagar died on December 9 th, 2006. The
villagers collected fund to do his cremation. His wife Rumali, mother
and children were living in a rag-tag hut. They do not have a single
inch of land to work on. According to his mother Shukravari, the family
did not eat anything for the past eight days. It is ironical that his
Antyodaya card also could not provide him any food. The fact is that
the people have no money to buy ration. Moreover, the ration shop owners
behave like the village bureaucrats and open the shop according to his
convenience. According to family members they get ration for one month
at the price of Rs 125/-, which is higher. They are not told of the
break up of it. The ration was paid for one month and the Kotedar has
filled up the farm for three months.
Such situation exists everywhere
in Kushinagar and Deoria districts of Eastern Uttar-Pradesh. Social
Development Foundation has raised these issues of hunger and starvation
deaths in the Eastern Uttar-Pradesh for the past few years. In fact,
my film, 'Bhookh Se Ladte Mushahar' amply tells the grave ground reality
in the region. Ironically, Kushingar is not only an international town
because of its relation to Lord Buddha but government of India has declared
it as one of the district under the National Employment Guarantee Scheme
and despite these facts the situation in the district remain unaltered.
State of affair of the government
In village dhobaha, under
Gram Sabha Mainpur, Kushinagar, the pathetic condition of villagers
reflects the nature of work. Bhadahi s/o videshi is a landless agricultural
worker with five sons and 2 daughters to feed. No person is educated
in the village and the Pradhan does not want to come. They do not have
any ration card to buy the subsidized food. Some time they eat 'Bajare
kee roti' and maze. The kerosene is costing them Rs 40/- per liter from
the black-market. Most of the bustee remains in dark in the night. There
no pecca house (constructed house) and nothing to eat at the school
for children. For the past two years one of the students have got scholarship
says the villagers. According to Bhadahi and other villagers, the Pradhan
took Rs 700/- to get the account opened for the Indira Awas Yojana but
so far nothing has happened.
In the village Rajwabar,
Khadahi, Bauki, 65, has four children. She does not have a ration card.
She goes to reap, harvest the field of local powerful people and get
Rs 10/- for a days work. Jagdish, 60 with three children want to work
but did not have it. It is shocking that none of these people have got
work under the NREGA which actually makes right to work as a fundamental
right. It clearly indicates how our institutions have been functioning
at the village level. When I ask him whether they went to the Pradhan
(Sarpanch) of the village
for the work, pat came the reply," He would not give us any work.
He look down upon us.' Bimli, a Mushahar woman of the village went to
the Pradhan for the work but returned empty handed. ' None of us have
our job card for the work. We do not even have ration card.' There are
about 31 families in the Tola and all of them living as illegal squatters
as Panchayat has not legally handed over the land. Not a single house
is constructed on bricks or mud. The huts have the danger of catching
fire in case of any mistake by the families. In the chilly cold wave,
it become tiring for the children to live hungry yet here they have
no options. Subhawati has seven children but no land. She does not have
ration card to buy grains. Ram Surat has no land and yet has an above
the poverty line card. The villagers here complain that for getting
an Antyodaya card they have to pay a bribe of Rs 300-Rs 500/- per card.
In village Kuhlva Pokhar
Bhinda which falls under Kasaya block, people charged village Sarpanch
Hari Narayan of helping his own family people. Hari Narayan is a Dusadh,
which is a Dalit community here but relatively better than the Mushahars
and Bansfors. The Sarpanch has collected all the job card of NREGA and
no work is given to the people. The ration shop owner takes Rs 110/-
Rs 125 for providing Antyodaya variety of ration, which is 25kg rice
at the rate of Rs 3/- per kg and 10 kg of wheat at the rate of Rs 2.
The total amount for this come to Rs 95/- yet despite all the instructions
the local ration shop owners charges the freight and other charges from
the poor villagers.
The school children openly
mentioned that they have not been getting any mid day meals in the schools.
For the past three months it was not there and have just started and
that too is Khichadi. Ask any Mushahar about his earning and ration
card and the answer is similar.' We are Mushahars. We do not have any
land even for constructing a house.
No job cards under NREGA
In a shocking incident Shankar
25, who has a son now, had to shift to his wife's parental home in the
absence of a place to live in the village Ram Swaroop and his brothers
too have no land. They got some work under the NREGA but just for three
days. Later, the Sarpanch took away their job card under the pretext
that the cards need to be verified by the higher authorities only then
the money would come.
In village Benupur under
Gram Sabha Saphan about 60 families of Mushahar lives along with other
communities. Total number of families in the Tola is 141. About 40 of
them have got job cards and were allocated work for 4-6 days. None of
them have land to till and just 11 families have Red card for the Below
the Poverty Line category.
According to Ramesh, a local
Mushahar agricultural worker, Mushahar children have not got any scholarship
in the school. There is no mid day meal. A local 'social activist' asked
the villagers to contribute their land for building a school for the
community. The Gram Panchayat gave him land, which was being tilled
by the Mushahrs. The man never developed the school. Instead, put a
hut in the location, which later caught fire. One does not know whether
the fire was accidental or mischievous but a number of Mushahrs are
facing charges for threatening the social workers. It is very unfortunate
that there is no school. Mushahar Vikas Pahal, an organizations also
started a school and promised scholarship yet not much has been done.
What do we do
The condition of Mushahrs
and other such communities is worsening in the region of Kushinagar,
Gorakhpur, Deoria and other districts of Uttar-Pradesh. Social Development
Foundation has been working with local NGOs and community based organizations
in the region and has been highlighting the issue of hunger, malnutrition
and landlessness for past five years. We feel that time has come to
take this issue to a logical conclusion. For the officials in the government
it is easier to say that these are not hunger deaths but let the officials
say 'what kind of life is it' if a person does not have two time ordinary
meal to eat. Can doctors claim that whatever Mushahars are eating at
the moment constitute 'diet' according to medical ethics? The fact is
that the life these people are living is utterly miserable and disgusting
and need a concrete answer from all of us who are concerned about their
It is time for various organizations
to come together and act on it and take the authorities to task. Half-hearted
measures of distributing ration do not work. The fact is that Mushahars
and Bansfors have lost their traditional rights. They have very little
land and virtually jobless. There is no education for the children.
How will they educate their children when they do not have a hut to
live and some thing to eat? Let us come out of hypocrisy and develop
a comprehensive package to deal with this chronic hunger, which has
killed thousands of people so far. The issue of hunger and starvation
cannot be addressed from these half-hearted measures of so-called employment
guarantee, which ultimately become tool for the local political class
to oppress the poor. It is important that civil society, NGOs, government
officials sit together and chart out a long term action plan to save
the people from this manmade onslaught of hunger and malnutrition.
Vidya Bhushan Rawat
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