Monday, May 24, 2010

[ZESTCaste] Failed PDS starves Gaya's Maha Dalits


Failed PDS starves Gaya's Maha Dalits

Shoumojit Banerjee

Hunger deaths present a sober reality check to Bihar government

GAYA: With the National Democratic Alliance government in Bihar
playing cowboys and Indians with the Centre over the number of BPL
(below the poverty line) families in the State, Gaya's hunger deaths
proffer a sober reality check to the government consistently
serenading its schemes for the Maha Dalit community.

Three years ago, 14 members of the Bhuiyyan community (a Maha Dalit
sub-caste) from a village in Gaya's Mohanpur block died after eating
the rotten meat of a dead goat. The reason for this desperate act was
non-availability of grain in the village for long.

Fast-forward two years to the Dobhi block, where more than six
starvation deaths were reported. All the victims belonged to the
Bhuiyyan-Musahar sub-caste and their names did not figure on the BPL

Similarly at Tetua tola, populated with 150-odd Bhuiyyan-Musahar
families, barely 69 villagers have their names on the BPL list. A mere
14 received some part of the benefits of the old-age pension scheme.
Hardly any of the villagers was given the yellow Antyodaya Anna Yojana
(AAY) card that would entitle them to 25 kg of grain at subsidised

Gaya's hunger deaths reached their climax last month with the death of
Congress Manjhi of Manan Bigha, who had been ailing for the past three
years. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis six months ago and he died
on April 14 — too ill and too weak to work.

Authorities attributed his death to an illness and not to starvation.
A Maha Dalit though, Manjhi also did not figure on the BPL list.

In each instance, the kith and kin of the victims were given a token
one quintal of rice after their deaths. This, understandably, was to
calm the frayed tempers.

"Till date, there have been more than 100 hunger deaths in Bihar, with
26 of them having occurred in Gaya alone. Every single one of them
smacks of incredible bureaucratic-political torpor," says Rupesh,
state advisor to the Supreme Court Commissioner.

According to activists like him, very little has changed for the
Bhuiyyans in the last 2,500 years.

At a Jan Sunwai (public hearing) organised this Wednesday by activists
of the People's Union for Civil Liberties and Koshish, a right to food
organisation, a thousand-odd Bhuiyyans took part, braving the
scorching heat, for making their voice heard after a very long time.

Not one of them had consistently been given food grains on their BPL
'red' cards since June 2009, while barely a dozen were ever issued
with AAY cards. "Even in States with dismal human rights records,
there has been at least some advancement. But here, there has been
very little progress," said Harsh Mander, special commissioner of the
Supreme Court and jury member at the hearing.

Noting that "there is a systematic breakdown in Bihar's Public
Distribution System," he said: "It is vital for the district
administration to get the anganwadi centres in working order if the
Bhuiyyan-Musahar communities are to get any relief in the near

Mr. Mander pointed out: "In case of hunger deaths, there is a long
time period during which the victim has consistently survived on a low
ration of foodgrains. When the autopsy is performed, there will remain
bare traces of morsels." The Human Rights Commission ruled that there
was no need to submit a post-mortem report for hunger deaths.

"Unless there is a mechanism to control corruption at delivery, it
will not make any difference to the government switching to cash
transfers from the PDS," says Father Jose of the PUCL's Bihar unit.


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