hunger death jharkhand

The death of a 5-year old girl in Hesatu village (Donki GP, Latehar district) on 16 May 2020 is widely attributed to hunger by local villagers.

Nimani, about 5 years old, was the daughter of Jaglal Bhuiyan and Kalawati Devi. This Dalit family of ten (husband, wife and eight children aged from 4 months to 12-13 years) has no land and no ration card. The 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. All 10 family members are visibly undernourished.

During the last few months, Jaglal Bhuiyan was working in a brick kiln in Sukulkhut (near Latehar) with two of his children. He came home with some money for Holi, but went back to the brick kiln after that and he has been away ever since, until 17 May. At the brick kiln, he and the two children get food, but the wages are not paid until the end of the season – around June he expects. So, he was unable to send any money home during the last two months.

Meanwhile, Kalawati was struggling to feed her children, with no food in the house most of the time. She received no support from the government except for one instalment of Rs 500 in her Jan Dhan Yojana account and small amounts of food or cash from the school and anganwadi. She and her children survived mainly by borrowing from here and there, and some support from neighbours. When we asked Kalawati what she and her children had been eating in 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. But on 16 May, in the evening, she fell unconscious and then died after some time. Kalawati mentioned that she had also thrown up earlier in the 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” after that, or something of that sort. This does not contradict the view, expressed by most other witnesses (including Nimani’s parents and neighours), that hunger was the main factor.

Gopal Oraon, “mukhiyapati” of Donki GP (Parvati Devi, his wife, is the mukhiya), came to Jaglal and Kalawati’s house at 12 pm on 17 May 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 instalment, without success.

The local PDS dealer, Ishwari Prasad Gupta, said that there was no provision to distribute rice to households without ration card, unless they have applied online of a ration card. He has received a list of 7 such households, and gives them 10 kg of rice per month. He said that he had prepared a list of 64 other households in Hesatu and Naihara that have no ration cards, and sent the list to the BDO, but so far no provision has been made for them.

The “sahiya” (ASHA), Radha Devi, broadly confirmed other testimonies. She said that one Subedar Bhuiyan had come to her in the afternoon of 16 May and 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.

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