Wednesday, March 03, 2010

India: Five family members die from extreme starvation as authorities fail to take action to respect the right to food

Source: Asian Human Rights Commission - The Asia Human Rights Commission (AHRC) regrets to inform you that extreme poverty and long-term starvation lead to the death of five members including two children under age of six of the same family of a tribal community from September to December 2009. It is also reported that within the last two years starvation claimed the lives of 50 among the 35-40 age group in the same village.

It has been exposed that all forms of government programmes aiming to ensure food security for the poor and children have not reached Borumal village properly. Even after several complaints from the villagers, the administration authority has never taken action to respect the right to food of the villagers by implementing those schemes. The Right to Food Campaign Orissa filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) for the case and the AHRC strongly urges the relevant authorities to take immediate action for the villagers who have been denied of their right to food.


On September 6 and 7, 2009, ten-month old Gundru Bariha and three-year old Siba Prasad Bariha died due to severe malnourishment. Two days later, on September 9, 2009, they were followed in death by their 35-year old mother, Bimla Bariha. The father, Jhintu Bariha, and the elder son Ramprasad, aged around 7, received medical attention. Jhintu was hospitalized several times for fever and lose motion. He died on October 7, 2009. On December 17, 2009 his mother, Minji Bahira (aged 70), died after she was brought to the hospital in a critical condition. Seven year-old Ramprasad survives alone in the family.

Jhintu's family lives in Chabripali in Buromal village of Bhanpur Panchayat (administrative unit composing of more than one village), Khaprakhol Block of Balangir district, Orissa. They neither own any land nor have a regular, stable source of income. Jhintu had worked as an agricultural labourer but had to stop this work after suffering an electric shock which badly damaged his left hand and leg. After sometime he had no other option but to go back to work as a migrant labourer in other states. However, in June 2009 Jhintu fell sick and could no longer migrate to find work, meaning that the family had no source of income.

Bimla, who also occasionally undertook light agricultural work, was unable to work full-time as she was still nursing her one year old daughter, Gundra. Consequently, for several months the family survived by sharing 12.5kg of rice given by Jhintu's elderly from their entitlement under the Public Food Distribution System (PDS) and sharing his father's small pension.

Although in a state of very vulnerable living conditions, Jhintu's family is not identified as a Below the Poverty Line (BPL) family despite of this vulnerable living condition as the BPL list in Orissa has not been revised since 1997. His mother was entitled to a pension but had never received it. The family suffered from lack of food and sickness and finding no other avenues for survival, Jhintu's sick 80 year old father, Jhintu and Bimla turned to occasional begging.

According to a fact-finding report by the Right to Food Programme Orissa, prior to their deaths the children were living on mudhi (puffed rice), salt and black tea. They went to sleep each night hungry – and were given water to quell the pain when they woke up crying. Furthermore, Bimla was unable to feed her youngest young child as she herself was malnourished and did not produce milk.

Although Jhintu has reportedly asked several times the head of the village, the Sarapanch, to give him a BPL card, the Sarapanch has expressed his inability to do it. The village head rather requested INR 3,000 (USD 65) bribe to procure Jhintu a house under Indira Awas Yojana scheme, which Jhintu could not afford. Similarly the villagers had been complaining about governmental benefits not reaching the village, but no steps were taken by the administration. No other actions were taken by officials prior to the deaths.

As a consequence of this regular insufficient food intake, the family members got weaker and therefore more vulnerable to diseases. At the time of their deaths, Gundru and Siba were suffering from fever, cough and severe anemia.

The family should have been entitled to different subsidized food programmes. Nevertheless prior to those three deaths they never received any benefit from them because of the poor functioning of the State institutions in charge of their implementation. Most of all, the family did not have a regular income source such as farm land to ensure food security.

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