May 15, 2013
Illustration: Anand Naorem
Two children from a poor family of weavers have allegedly died of starvation in Varanasi. Four-year old Mohammed Murtaza died on 9 May, while his sister Shamim Parveen (14) died the next day in the Bajardiha locality of Varanasi. Their father, Abdul Khaliq died 10 months ago of malnutrition. He was unable to pay bills for his medical treatment.
While the district administration of Varanasi says that the children died of tuberculosis, human rights’ activists allege that the deaths were due to hunger and malnutrition.
“Both children died due to extreme poverty,” says Mukhtar Ahmed, owner of the loom where Abdul Khaliq worked. “Naazra, mother of the four children, worked at my loom weaving sarees. She earned Rs 25 to Rs 50 everyday and was dependent on her neighbours financially. The children searched for food in garbage dumps.”
But the district administration of Varanasi has denied that the deaths took place due to starvation. “Two doctors examined the bodies of the children and certified that both were suffering from tuberculosis. After all, we have to accept what is being diagnosed by the doctors,” said Additional DM of Varanasi, Mangal Prasad Singh.
Endorsing the official stand, Varanasi City President OP Singh said, “The family was very poor, but the cause of death was not starvation, it was lack of proper medical treatment. Opposition parties are politicising the issue for obvious political gains.”
However, soon after the death of the two children, Naazra was rewarded with a Weaver Card, a BPL Card, foodgrains, kerosene oil and a flat built under the ‘Kanshiram Sahree Garib Avas Yojna’ scheme of the Mayawati regime.
Shruti, head of a human rights organisation, working among weavers in Varanasi says that Naazra had an Above Poverty Line (APL) card. However, soon after the death of her two children, the district administration lost no time to issue her a BPL card. The Weaver Card will enable her to avail the benefits of welfare schemes.
Questioning the ‘benevolence’ of the district administration, Shruti said, “If the family was not under extreme poverty and malnutrition, why have they been given a BPL card, Weaver Card and food grains? How can the district administration claim that the two children died of the disease when the post mortem of the bodies was not conducted?”
She maintained that the Naazra family suffered from extreme poverty and malnutrition. Whatever little Naazra earned as a saree weaver, went in purchasing foodgrains. The family was dependent on doles from neighbours, but the financial condition of neighbours was also not good.
“This is not the first time such an incident has happened in Varanasi. Several such incidents have occurred in the past where poor weavers died of starvation, but no government in UP ever admitted to the deaths,” says Shyamdeo Rai Chowdhary, BJP MLA from Varanasi. He added, “One time assistance of foodgrains and kerosene oil is no solution – the government should run a state-wide programme identifying the vulnerable poor in rural and urban areas.”
- Chhattisgarh – Letter to NHRC on the denial of rights to political prisoners at Raipur Central Jail (kractivist.wordpress.com)
- Mother of five watches helplessly as two of her children starve to death in Varanasi (ndtv.com)
- A tale of two cities – Vrindavan and Varanasi (thehindu.com)