Rule of Law in Belwa, Varanasi, India

Staff of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) together with staff of the People's Vigilance Committee for Human Rights (PVCHR) in Uttar Pradesh, India have received news that a child died of starvation this morning, 28 July 2006 due to wanton government inaction and neglect because of caste discrimination. Nine-month-old Seema Musahar died of starvation in Belwa village, Varanasi despite repeated desperate attempts of her family to get help from local officials. She is reportedly the third child to die of starvation in her village in the last couple of months. This is even though the poverty and hunger of the local community has been widely reported and is known to the officials. The starving people have allegedly received no help because they belong to an "untouchable" community. More children are sure to die in this village unless there is prompt action by state officials for the victims and against the local officials who appear to have deliberately failed to due their duties.

INDIA: Starvation deaths in Varanasi due to caste hatred of District Magistrate

Name of latest victim: Seema Musahar, 9-months-old, daughter of Laxmi Musahar (35) and Chotelal Musahar (40)
Names of the alleged negligent officials:
1. Rajiv Agarwal, District Magistrate, Varanasi
2. Abhimanyu Singh, Block Development Officer, Badagaon
3. Sameer Verma, Sub Divisional Magistrate, Pindra
4. Village head, Belwa
5. District Medical Officer, Varanasi
Place of incident: Belwa Village, Badagaon Block, Varanasi District, Uttar Pradesh
Date of incident: 28 July 2006

I am writing to you to express my outrage at the death of another child in Varanasi district of Uttar Pradesh as a result of deliberate inaction of caste-obsessed local government officials.

According to the information I have received, Seema Musahar died on the morning of July 28 in her village after desperate attempts by her mother to get help at a primary health centre some 9km distant. Seema died because her parents have been out of work due to the struggle against bonded labour in Varanasi, a form of modern-day slavery that I find incredible is still being practiced in Uttar Pradesh. Seema's parents had been working as labourers at a brick kiln for which they had received only pitiful amounts of low-quality grain and chaff as payment. After they had left the work, they could get virtually no food and Laxmi was not able to produce milk for her child.

I am shocked to learn that in addition to this on June 18, Laxmi's father, Phoolchand, had already also died of starvation. After that, the family met with the District Magistrate, Block Development Officer and Sub Divisional Magistrate, who are named above. Although the officials learnt that the starving family had no access to any government welfare schemes, the District Magistrate just gave a note to admit them to the district hospital in Varanasi. Seema was admitted to hospital on June 26 but discharged on July 1 without getting adequate treatment. On July 11 Laxmi wrote to the District Magistrate requesting 1000 rupees (USD 20) from emergency funds to help her family but received no reply, after which Seema died.

I am aware that this is by no means the only recent starvation death in Belwa and that many other people are at risk. Muneeb Musahar, a 3-year-old boy, also died of starvation on May 29. Like Seema, he was taken for medical attention just before his death and found to be in a critical condition. On May 26 the primary health centre at Baragaon recorded that he weighed only 10kg and was suffering severe malnutrition. Yet, although in his case his family had been issued with a red ration card, Muneeb died. At least one other child has died in similar conditions in the last two months in the village, where over 30 families are reported to be starving, and cooking food only once every four or five days.

All this is going on without there being any public distribution schemes or government assistance programmes in Belwa, and despite the fact that the conditions there are well-known to the authorities and general public. The local news media have reported on the starvation deaths and severe malnutrition, and the National Human Rights Commission has taken cognisance of complaints and issued notices to the concerned authorities. However, instead of taking steps as required, the local authorities have reportedly persecuted the people more and the District Magistrate has repeatedly ordered the arrest of human rights defenders working in the area.

I am informed that the reason for the deliberate inaction and hostility of the authorities is because the Belwa village head, District Magistrate and others are reported to be caste-minded feudalists and landlords who have no interest in the conditions of the Musahars. The District Magistrate is known to hold Musahars in contempt and is alleged to have publicly abused them. I am informed that when on a previous occasion he came to the village under pressure due to public appeals about starvation there, he visited only to the house of the village headman and went away. Some of the Belwa villagers have accused him of intending to starve them out of existence, and from the evidence available to me I share this concern.

At a time that India is pretending to become a world power, people in Uttar Pradesh are living under barbaric subhuman conditions. I demand that you act immediately to bring an end to their suffering, as follows:

1. Ensure emergency grants and subsequent full redress to the families of persons who have starved to death in Belwa, including the families of Seema and Muneeb Musahar. A special local committee of credible persons should be established for the purpose of ensuring that this is done.

2. Initiate full and fair legal and criminal investigations into the deaths, through an independent investigative team from outside of the district, with a view to laying charges against any persons found responsible for a failure of duty to prevent the deaths.

3. Suspend at once the District Magistrate, Block Development Officer, Sub Divisional Officer, Village Head and District Medical Officer identified above, subject to the completion of the necessary inquiries.

4. Launch all necessary government welfare schemes in Belwa and open a food distribution centre and primary health centre there without delay.

5. Allocate agricultural land to landless families in Belwa, with priority given to the families of victims of starvation deaths, and other necessary measures to see that the local people are gainfully employed and able to support themselves.

I trust that you will take immediate action with regards to the above as this is a matter of the utmost seriousness and one that places the reputation of the whole of India at jeopardy.
STARVATION DEATH OF SEEMA MUSAHAR ON 28 JULY 2006
Nine-month-old Seema Musahar died this morning, July 28 in Belwa village, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh after desperate attempts of her mother, 35-year-old Laxmi Musahar to get help for her infant at the local health centre and other places. As the AHRC mentioned in a statement issued yesterday July 27 (AS-180-2006), Laxmi had to pawn her two saris to a neighbour to get some money with which to take her child to get treatment, but still this was not enough to save her.

Laxmi and her husband 40-year-old Chotelal have been out of work due to the struggle that they had joined against the persistent use of bonded labour in Varanasi. They had been working as labourers at a brick kiln for which they had received only pitiful amounts of low-quality grain and chaff as payment. The AHRC has written about this modern form of slavery going on in Varanasi in a previous appeal: UA-074-2006. After they had left the work, Seema's parents could get virtually no food, and Laxmi was not able to produce milk for her child.

On June 18, Laxmi's father, Phoolchand, had already also died of starvation. After that, the family met with the District Magistrate of Varanasi, Rajiv Agarwal, who is the responsible local officer, together with two other local officials, the Block Development Officer and Sub Divisional Magistrate. The parents explained that they had no access to any government welfare schemes. But the district magistrate just gave a note to admit them to the district hospital in Varanasi. Seema was admitted to hospital on June 26 but discharged on July 1 without getting adequate treatment.

On July 11 Laxmi wrote to the District Magistrate requesting 1000 rupees (USD 20) from emergency funds to help her family but received no reply. So it was that when little Seema was on the verge of death her mother again took her to the primary health centre some 9km from the village in the ultimately vain hope that she could be kept alive.


MORE IN BELWA COULD DIE SOON; CAUSE IS CASTE DISCRIMINATION

The PVCHR earlier documented the death of Muneeb Musahar, a 3-year-old boy of the same village as Seema, on May 29. Like Seema, he was taken for medical attention just before his death and found to be in a critical condition. On May 26 the primary health centre at Baragaon recorded that he weighed only 10kg and was suffering severe malnutrition. Yet, although in his case his family had been issued with a "red card" that would entitle them to government rations, Muneeb died. At least one other child there has died in similar conditions in the last two months.

According to what staff members of the AHRC and PVCHR have seen on the ground in Belwa, at least 30 families are starving. Many have said that they cook food only once every four or five days. There is no access to any public distribution schemes or government assistance programmes in the village.

All of this is going on despite the fact that the conditions in Belwa are well-known to the authorities and general public. The local news media have reported on the starvation deaths and severe malnutrition, as have groups including the AHRC and PVCHR, and have lodged complaints with the National Human Rights Commission, which has issued notices to the authorities. After such actions, not only have the local officers not taken steps as required but instead they have increased attacks on the local population which appear intended to drive the people back into total submission. These include the alleged extrajudicial killing of Santosh Kumar Singh by the police in March 2006 (UA-081-2006), as well as other incidents of harassment and arrest of local persons, including those working with the PVCHR (UA-156-2006; UP-122-2006; UA-068-2006; UP-166-2005), on the orders of the district magistrate. However, the local people have refused to be cowed and are continuing to fight against the attempts to silence them, most recently holding a public meeting on July 1 to demand justice for Muneeb's family and action to stop further deaths.  

The reason for the deliberate inaction and hostility of the authorities is because the village head, district magistrate and others are reported to be caste-minded feudalists and landlords who have no interest in the conditions of the Musahars, an "outcaste" community. The AHRC has written about atrocities against Musahars and other so-called "untouchable" groups in earlier appeals, including: UA-032-2006; UA-019-2006. The District Magistrate Rajiv Agarwal is known to hold Musahars in contempt and is alleged to have publicly abused them. When on a previous occasion he came to the village under pressure due to appeals, he visited only to the house of the village headman, who shares his attitudes, and went away. He deliberately avoided having contact with any of the local people who are suffering. Some have accused him of deliberately starving them out of existence.

Belwa is also not the only village in Varanasi where people are starving to death. See for instance: HU-08-2005. Please also read about the People's Tribunal on Starvation in Uttar Pradesh in the December 2005 edition of article 2 (vol. 4, no. 6; www.article2.org

Yours sincerely,

Sign Petition
Sign Petition
You have JavaScript disabled. Without it, our site might not function properly.

privacy policy

By signing, you accept Care2's terms of service.

Having problems signing this? Let us know.