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Is Death Better Than Life For Mushahars Of Kushingar

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

20 December, 2006

It 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 like Bikau

(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 October, 2006.

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 finally died.

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 schemes

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 plight.

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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