Sunday, December 03, 2006

Aren't these hunger deaths ?

Rolly, Sheopur, Madhya Pradesh

Published at

You may give a piece of bread to a hungry person, and when the cravings of hunger return someone else must administer to his wants again; to put that person in a position to earn his own subsistence is true charity. In this way you direct his feet on the path of true independence. He is then only dependent on his own exertions and on the blessings of his God. -Daniel H. Wells. In May 2006 Dilli Dakha lost their first child when she was one and a half years old, after this, they had a child, Sugreev who is two years old now. The couple then lost their twin daughters Ganga and Jamuna and according to the mother Dakha she was not able to feed them, as there was no milk. She says that she is only able to eat one Roti with onion once a day. Her family’s diet does not include any pulses or vegetables because they cannot afford it. Her husband earns around Rs.20 per day on the days he goes out to work, which is very less. After her third delivery she has started loosing her eyesight, which is largely due to the deficiency of vitamin A. Dilli Dakha and her husband belong to Sahariya tribe. Sahariyas or the tribals who call themselves “Sehera or Sair” claim to be the first of the tribes of the country. They were dependent on forest for survival for generations and lived a subsistence life with limited needs. Their traditional means of earning a livelihood was one of agriculture, gathering forest products and hunting. Ignored by the society, inhuman behaviour of system and deprived of their basic needs they are a community that has been subject to a lot of social, economic and political discrimination.

Life has not been easy for the Sahariyas after their eviction from the forests. Unable to bear the political, social and economic exploitation and discrimination meted out by the people who live in villages these tribals moved over to live in Saharanas (Sahariya Hamlets) away from the villages. For past couple of years Sahariya in Madhya Pradesh have been in the news. The reasons are many like drought, vulnerability, exploitation and irresponsibility of the state etc, which is constantly making them victims of death. But even then one does not find any change in the pathetic conditions that exist in the area. Sahariya children are the worst affected due to poverty, lack of livelihood resources and Govt. policies. Data from Government of MP's Bal Sanjeevani Abhiyan (8th Report) indicate that 58% of the children in the age group 0-6 in the district suffer from malnutrition. These indicators show that Sahariya’s are one of the poorest and most deprived communities in the entire country. It is representative of the hilly and forested, SC-ST dry lands of India, where poverty and malnutrition are concentrated. Within this overall picture, the appalling levels of deprivation of the tribal population of the Sheopur district, the Sahariyas, adds another dimension to the whole problem.

According to the information by the Regional medical research centre for tribals, Jabalpur that the Infant Mortality rate (per 1000 lives births) of Sahariya is 88 and 93.5% of Sahariya children are victims of severe malnourishment and 15% are almost on the verge of death, due to malnourishment. The average life span of a Sahariya is 45 years, which is 25% less than that of an average mans life span.74.3% children’s were underweight and 75.4% are stunted. It is difficult to trace even a single child, youth or a family that is not a victim of severe malnourishment and anemia. However the health and nutritional status of these children is the last priority on the list of the government. The figures for the Sahariyas place them amongst the worst in the world Sometimes, some schemes were enacted to provide temporary relief and then when the condition became stable, the administration adopted it’s as usual step motherly treatment to the community A village, Patalgarh has been in the news in February 2005, for the most distressing reasons- death of 13 innocent children .

The village, which is part of the Karahal Block, is situated at a distance of 70 kms from the district headquarters and 65 kms from the block headquarters. It can be reached by taking the Goras road from Karahal and one has to travel through the thick forest and bumpy, muddy roads. The village situated in the interior does not have even the basic infrastructural facility. In order to reach the village one has to travel almost 70 kms by road, crossing forest area. The nearest hospital is situated at a distance of 35 kms. This can be clearly understood if we look into the functioning of the Anganwadi centers and the Mid Day Meals scheme in the state, especially in Sheopur, a Sahariya dominated district in Madhya Pradesh. Previously there was no anganwadi in Patalgarh village and the nearest anganwadi is situated in Hirapur village, 17 kms away. A worker, Mithilesh who was holding a temporary post, looks after the temporary Anganwadi in Patalgarh village. According to the villagers there are 70 children in the village who have been enrolled in the Anganwadi. The enrolled children have been given Supplementary Nutritious Food only till January 2006. There is a Multipurpose Heath Worker for the village who manages to make a round once in a month.

However one cannot blame him for this because he has to look after 3 panchayats. He has also been entrusted the duty of registration of births and deaths and in the given circumstances he leaves out many children. This is the main reason why the government has been denying the deaths. Most of the new born die within one month and neither their birth nor their death gets registered. It was found that not only children in Patalgarh are dying but huge number of Maternal Deaths has also become a part of the daily life here. Now Right to Food alliance demanded a joint commission of enquiry from the Commissioners for fixing the accountability and to identify the policy level gaps. At this moment Joint Commission of Enquiry is in the process to finalize its report on the matter of malnutrition deaths. After these incidents Madhya Pradesh RtFC filed and interim application in the Civil Writ Petition 196/2001 to make state more accountable towards the issue But presently after the intervention of Supreme Court the story of Patalgarh was totally different, the village has the functioning Anganwadi, the ANM has also been appointed; there was no PDS access in January. But now, a "PDS tractor" brings grain to the village from the nearby Hirapur village (15 km away) once in a month. During the previous Supreme Court intervention, temporary cards were distributed in the village to enable PDS access to people. The cards were still in circulation, in spite of the assurance by the district administration that issue of fresh cards will be completed by August 2006. Under NREGA a road construction work was going ahead. The people of patalgarh are also getting minimum wages (Rs. 60 per day) and have to excavate 100 cubic feet per day.

Patalgarh is on priority of the government but the question is that there are many villages like Patalgarh which don’t get the attention of the administration and result of this negligence causes the death of innocent children. In spite of the death of Ganga and Jamuna and the death of 6 children and two mothers this year, life in Patalgarh village in Karahal Block of Sheopur District of Madhya Pradesh, seems to be pulling along as usual. The villagers as usual go about their work; the children in the village are running around oblivious of the grave situation that is building in the village. Death of the children like Ganga and Jamuna are nothing new to the district. Every summer many Sahariya Children like Ganga and Jamuna die and every death doesn’t make to the headlines of newspapers who are bothered more about the illness of Mahajans – pun intended – and Bachhans.

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1 comment:

child reporters said...

Greetings from Santakar, Koraput , Orissa.
Really it is an eye opener for all . Why donot post the news and views related to such deaths and conditions from all over the country . We, the child reporters are with you .
With regards