Death by hunger: Activists protest government inaction over starvation deaths

Written by Sabrangindia | Published on: December 17, 2018

The Right To Food Campaign organized a protest at Krishi Bhavan in New Delhi on Monday against the government’s refusal to take any action against hunger deaths that have occurred in the country. The death toll of these hunger deaths has reportedly reached 65.


Hunger Deaths
 
New Delhi: The Right To Food Campaign (RTF) organized a protest at Krishi Bhavan in New Delhi on Monday against the government’s refusal to take any action against hunger deaths that have occurred in the country. The death toll of these hunger deaths has reportedly reached 65.
 
Of the 56 hunger deaths compiled by the team from 2015 to 2018, 42 deaths have been reported between 2017 and 18. Most of these victims are from the disadvantaged groups such as Dalits, Adivasis and Muslims and a majority of these deaths are from two states – Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh.
 
These deaths are never called starvation deaths. Many people and even the Government refuse to believe in starvation deaths. Nevertheless, the fact remains that 19 crore people sleep on a hungry stomach in India, which explains why India ranks 100th out of the 119 countries in the global hunger Index.
 
Across India, over 50 people have died due to starvation-related deaths in the past four years, mostly after their ration cards were cancelled when they were not linked with Aadhar, as per the data released by two Right to Food Activists.
 
In 2017, The Jharkhand government patted their backs with a full-page ad for saving Rs. 225 crores and 86 crores by cancelling ‘Fake’ Aadhaar cards and old age pensions. They ended up depriving the poorest of poor of necessary food which has since resulted in many starvation deaths in the state. Access to the Public Distribution System is abysmal and Aadhaar based biometric machines constantly fail, often leading to poor Indians dying of hunger.
 
RTF has released many fact-finding reports with annexures which delve into the complexities of the failure of the state government in providing the right to life to its residents. It details shocking negligence and corruption to deny basic human rights to the most marginalised.
 
Documentation by RTF reveals more:
 
Starvation deaths in the country
 
West Bengal
In mid - November, media reported the death of seven people from starvation. All of them belonged to the Sabar community, in Jungle Mahal area of Jhargram district of West Bengal. Sabar community is an ethnic tribe, mainly found in Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal. Right to Food and Work Campaign team from West Bengal visited the villages for fact-finding. Click here to read the fact-finding report and annexure.

Days after the news appeared in the media, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee refuted the reports as fabricated saying the deaths either resulted from age-related ailments or excessive liquor consumption. She said that the Government was providing food grains to every poor person.
 
Jharkhand
At least 17 people died of starvation in Jharkhand since 28 September 2017. The most recent victim is a 45-year-old Kaleshwar Soren who died of hunger and destitution on November 11 in Mahuatant village of Jama block of Dumka district of Jharkhand. A fact-finding team of the Right to Food Campaign, Jharkhand, found that Kaleshwar’s family's ration card was cancelled as it was not linked with Aadhaar.
 
Kaleshwar’s death comes close on the heels of the deaths of Moti Yadav of Margomunda block (Deoghar) on 1 November and Seeta Devi of Basia block (Gumla) on 25 October. Moti Yadav, visually impaired, died of destitution. He did not get disability pension despite applying for it. 75-year-old Seeta Devi, who lived alone, starved to death as she did not have any food or cash at home before her death. Even though she had a ration card, due to illness, she could not go to the ration shop in October to authenticate her identity. She was also denied old age pension as her bank account was not linked with Aadhaar.
 
Out of these 17 hunger deaths, at least seven victims were eligible for social security pension but were either not issued a pension or did not receive their pension due to administrative lapses or Aadhaar-related issues. Not to mention the children of these families, with poor education, negligible access to health services and employment, are staring at a bleak future. Right to Food Campaign, Jharkhand has issued a statement about this.
 
The deceased in Jharkhand did not get the ration promised under the public distribution scheme (PDS) and Antodyay Anna Yojana (AAY).
 
All these deaths took place after the Jharkhand government cancelled 11.6 lakh ration cards claiming that these were bogus as they were not linked to Aadhaar by their holders. The information of these cancellations was provided by the state secretary of food and civic supply Vinay Chaubey.
 
Statement on Aadhaar can be found here [English version] [Hindi version].

Media Coverage of the statement: The Wire [Gaurav Vivek Bhatnagar], CounterviewTimes of IndiaNews ClickEPWThe Wire [Abinash]
  
Discussion on Manifesto for 2019 elections
 
Madhya Pradesh: Right to Food Campaign prepared a manifesto and is submitting to all the political parties, which is focused on Maternity Entitlement, ICDS, nutrition, diversity in the nutrition, Public Distribution System, provision of proteins and fats in the National Food Security Act, community-based management policy of nutrition and Social Audit. Indian National Congress Manifesto (MP) says they will provide 90 days wages or Rs. 21000, whichever is less, as maternity entitlements to all unorganized sector families.
 
Bihar: On the Constitution Day (November 26) Right to Food Campaign (Bihar) jointly with other organizations set up a one-day discussion on the manifesto for 2019 elections. Their demand includes demands for Right to Food, Pension, Right to Education, Justice for all, and preventing communalism. They have also demanded actions to save the environment, prevent distress migration of people, land reforms, employment guarantee, homeless etc. in the manifesto along with Government accountability on each of these issues.. Full manifesto can be found here.
 
Statement on Aadhaar
Hundreds of members of various campaigns said they were "extremely disappointed" with the Supreme Court upholding the constitutionality of Section 7 of the Aadhaar Act, "which allows the state to make the use of Aadhaar and biometric authentication mandatory for citizens to receive social benefits."
 
A joint statement issued by various groups said "the mandatory use of Aadhaar may amount to an emergency. That is why we call upon people to come together to pressurize all parties to amend the Aadhaar Act immediately so that the mandatory use of Aadhaar for accessing basic entitlements is completely prohibited." They also said they would make Aadhaar an "electoral issue." Click here to read the full statement.
 
Media coverage on Aadhaar statement
The Hindu, Business StandardNews ClickOutlook IndiaDaily HuntAajkiKhabarSocial News,  Web India
 
Letter for Politicians
Right to Food Campaign Secretariat sent a letter to all politicians on the issue of hunger to request to raise their voice in the Parliament on behalf of those who are hungry and malnourished. There is a silent emergency in the country with about 45 reported hunger-related deaths in the past one year from different states. These deaths are a reflection of the grave situation of hunger and distress in many parts of the country and we must act urgently to ensure that not a single person succumbs to hunger anymore.  
 
“More children under the age of five die in India than anywhere else in the world. A recent estimate puts this figure at over 1.5 million children a year—over 4,500 child deaths a day. A third of these could have been averted if children did not go to bed hungry night after night. These figures suggest that over 3,00,000 children die every year in India because of hunger. And for many children who escape death, the poverty of their parents means that hunger remains an unremitting part of their lives. Hunger does not stunt only the body, it also affects the brain. The result: An entire generation of children born into poverty with stunted intellectual development which traps them in the same poverty their parents lived with. A state of poverty which will ultimately kill them well before their fellow citizens who did not go hungry during childhood.” wrote Vikram Patel, a Pershing Square Professor of Global Health at Harvard Medical School and affiliated with the Public Health Foundation of India and Sangath.
 
IndiaSpend spoke to medical experts and social activists and found that the government response does not take into account two factors involving the links between malnutrition and starvation:
 
1.Medically, these deaths are most likely due to infections and diseases. But prolonged malnutrition undermines the immune system, making the body prone to life-threatening infections;
 
2.Starvation deaths are caused by a circle of poverty, government apathy and mandatory Aadhaar-ration-card integration, the lack of which deprives poor citizens of foodgrain they are entitled to under government schemes. Over a period of time, this results in malnutrition and death.
 
(With inputs from past Sabrang articles on starvation deaths)
 
Read Also:
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