Sunday, April 23, 2006

An appeal to civil society,people's organisation,UN and heads of state

Greetings from People’s vigilance committee on Human Rights (PVCHR).We wanted to draw your kind attention to the problems faced by Ghasia Tribe of Sonbhadra of UP, India. It should be noted that People of Ghasia tribe are great
performer of Karma dance which is one of the famous folk and tribal dances of Indian society. But it is regrettable that Ghasia tribe has reached on the verge of extinction due to negligent and indifferent attitudes of Indian Government and policy makers.They have no means of their livelihood. They have been living under acute poverty since 1999. H.E.RAMON DEL FIERRO MAGSAYSAY, 3rd President of the Republic of the Philippines once stated “ I believe that the little man is fundamentally entitled to a little bit more food in his stomach, a little more cloth in his back and a little more roof over his head.” But here in India malpractices with Ghasia tribe goes against the spirit of H. E. Ramon Magsaysay. WE are not losing
only lives of Ghasia people, but most importantly we are losing our indigenous culture, wisdom and knowledge.
PVCHR organized a KARMA Festival in Varanasi, cultural capital city of India to draw the attention of people to the pitiable condition of Ghasia tribe on the occasion of international day against violence on women, 25th Nov., 2005.PVCHR has been working hard for last three years with the
support of Misereor, Germany for the betterment of Ghasia tribe. Detailed report of Ghasia tribe and of Karma festival is enclosed with this letter.

Now we humbly request you to take the matter of Ghasia tribe before Indian Government to save the pluralistic culture of Indian society as well as Indigenous
culture of world.
Waiting for your kind response.

With warm regards,

Dr. Lenin

Vikash Maharaj
Sarod player

Karma Festival:
Primitive men living in forests go for hunting and after the day-long toil they hold a feast at night.
All the men and women sing and dance, rejoicing their successful hunting. And, after the celebrations, they go to sleep. While they are sleeping, some aliens come
and take away a girl. In the meantime, an old man, who is the head of the group, comes and tries to rescue the girl, but he fails to protect her. Meanwhile, an
energetic youth comes to he rescue and he fights with them vigorously, and finally becomes victorious.
Impressed with his bravery, the old man makes him the head of the group, and the girl is married off to him.
The men and women of the group celebrate the occasion with their traditional ‘Domkack’ dance.
This traditional folk performance staged at Rajendra Prasad Ghat on Friday evening by the people of Ghasia tribe had a pleasant end. But, real life has not been
so kind to them. In fact, through this traditional folk perform once at the Karma Festival they tried to tell the people about a similar nightmare they had
experienced a couple of years back when, they failed to provide tribal girls to some constables of Sonebhadra police.
“About four years ago, some policemen asked me to arrange two ‘maal’ (girls) to satiate their carnal desires. When I showed my inability to fulfill their
desire, they thrashed me so hard that my bones broke,”recalled Phool Chand, a member of Ghasia tribe living at Nai Basti near the district headquarters of Sonebhadra in Roberstgang. The people of Ghasia tribe had migrated from village Markudi of Robertsganj tehsil in search of livelihood about four years ago.
Markudi, Chiroj and several other villages of Nagwa block are the most backward villages of this district.
Despite making all kind of efforts like working as agricultural workers, rickshaw pullers and mine workers away from their homes, they were unable to
manage two square meals a day.
Phool Chand along with another 75 members of his tribe was in the city on Friday to take part in Karma Festival organized by the People’ Vigilance Committee
on Human Rights Commission in memory of the late Rahul Kumar, a social activist working for the welfare of tribal people.
Not only Phool Chand, but the entire group of over 55 families had to face the ire of police. He told TOI that all the men and women were beaten mercilessly by
the people in Khaki. Hansu, another youth of the group, showing his deformed leg, said he has now become dependent on others for the rest of his life.
“We could not afford to get costly medical treatment” he said adding that a number of people were living with deformed limbs due to police atrocities.
“The worst impact of the police action was the death of 18 children in a short period due to starvation,”said Ram subhag, an elderly person of the group, who
also lost his three-year-old son, Punnu after that incident. “After the police atrocities, no person of that group was in a position to do any work for a
livelihood, and the children, who died one by one in want of food, were the first victims,” he lamented.
However, the district administration became active after the matter came to the notice of National Human Rights Commission. Ram Subhag said food grains were
given to them by the district administration. They were also given the below poverty line red card. “But,we are still landless and our names are not in the
voters’ last”. He said.
Though these people were yet to overcome the grief of the untimely demise of their children, they were seemingly trying to convert this agony into their strength by struggle for a better life. Sticking with their traditional folk art, most of them are artists of various forms of folk dances like Karma, Domkach,Jhoomar, Chhattishgarhi and Kharvari Karma. These forms of dances, which are the characteristic of these Adivasis, depict the entire cultural history and their
relation ship with nature. They also performed at various places of the country on the invitation from cultural organizations. “But, like us, our art is yet
to get recognition.” Said Katwaru, the leader of a dance group.
Karma festival published in all local newspapers and came on Star news,ETV etc.
Activists Spotlight Hunger Deaths of Indian Children
OneWorld South Asia
Fri., Nov. 7, 2003

NEW DELHI, Nov 7 (OneWorld) - The death of 18 children between July and September, allegedly due to lack of food, has sparked concerns about growing starvation in
a landless indigenous community in a remote village in northern India.

As the Indian government belatedly wakes up to the long festering issue, with a decision to distribute free food packets, human rights activists working in
the Sonebhadra district of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, stress that the food aid is insufficient to keep starvation at bay.

"The death of these 18 children highlights only the tip of the iceberg," says the People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), a rights body based
in the Uttar Pradesh city of Varanasi.

The activists fear that if the government does not give land for cultivation to the people - belonging to the Ghasia tribe - they will continue to starve. "The
situation is still extremely bleak," says PVCHR convener Lenin Raghuvanshi.

The children of the Ghasia tribe - all aged between three and seven - died between July and September this year in Naibasta hamlet in Sonebhadra district in
eastern Uttar Pradesh. PVCHR says that though local newspapers reported the deaths, the district administration chose to ignore the issue.

"They died of the disease of hunger, what else,"Somaro, a village elder, told a PVCHR team that recently visited the area to probe the starvation

"As soon as the team entered the village, all children, women and the old gathered to see who had come. We found that most of the children were mere skeletons, as if their body and flesh had been sapped away. It was obvious that they were being dragged into the cruel clutches of death," the team said in a report to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC)- a New Delhi-based government-instituted body.

On the basis of the complaint, the NHRC Tuesday asked the Uttar Pradesh administration to examine the allegations. The state authorities have to present
their report to the NHRC within six weeks.

"At a recent meeting, the full commission noted that if the allegations were true, the matter required urgent attention by the authorities, as precious human
rights of the tribals were alleged to have been violated," NHRC says in a statement.

The Ghasia tribe has been living in a settlement declared a forest area by the government. Decades ago,the tribe made the forest their home, after fleeing
their ancestral villages to escape the tyranny of the region's feudal landlords.

PVCHR says they cleared a part of the forest and cultivated coarse grains for food. Dependent on forest produce, they supported themselves by making and selling brooms out of grass, combs and clay drums.

But forest officials drove them out of the woods, and the villagers were forced to settle in an area just near a district town.

Here, officials of the government-run Forest Department reportedly did not allow them to forage for food in the forests.

According to Lenin, as a consequence, the families are surviving on poisonous grass and wild mushrooms for the last four years.

"The adults somehow managed to survive the ill effects of the poisonous intake, but the little children were unable to tolerate the poison and succumbed to death,"
PVCHR says.

After the NHRC's intervention, food was distributed to the affected families on Wednesday. Lenin stresses though, that the Ghasia people need land for survival.

Only land distribution and agrarian reform can stave off deaths, he says.

Lenin states that 40 nongovernmental organizations in eastern Uttar Pradesh have launched a movement to press the demand for land for the Ghasia people.

The organizations plan to hold demonstrations and launch a signature campaign for this.
“The death of 18 children due to the disease
of Hunger

“ They died of the disease of hunger and what else………..” when we asked old man somaro, the reason for recurrent deaths of children one after the other,
this harsh reality was revealed to us, when our team representing People’s vigilance committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) visited this village to investigate
the hunger deaths. This truth was confirmed as we observed the pathetic and malnourished condition of another 17-18 kids of Naibasti, Rope village, Tehsil
Robertsganj, District Sonbhadra. As soon as the team entered the village all kids, women and old gathered to see who had come, we found that most of the
children were mere skeletons, as if their body and flesh had been sapped away. It was obvious that they were being dragged into the cruel clutches of death.

These hunger deaths happened nowhere else but right under the nose of the District Administrative Officials residential complex. The deaths were reported by the local Hindi newspaper ‘Amar Ujala” on August 5, 2003. The entire Administration was on
their toes after this sensational news was reported in the newspaper, the Deputy CMO and other senior doctors rushed to the village and conducted an “on the spot
investigation” and submitted their report to the DM.
This report candidly stated that the reason for these hunger deaths that have taken place over the last 2 years is none other than the country’s prevalent yet
least acknowledged disease of “Hunger”. It is crucial to note here that most of these deaths have taken place over the last 11 months. The team of doctors
identified 18 other children who due to poverty and malnourishment are gradually going into the jaws of death. It is not that the Administration is not aware
of the impoverishment and marginalization of dalits and tribals prevalent in this district, but they have conveniently chosen to avoid looking into the problem.
Once these deaths were reported in the newspaper the entire Administration machinery swung into action with all its best effort to sweep the issue under the
carpet. The insensitivity of the District Officials was unveiled, when an old women went inside and brought the ration supplied by the SDM the same day i.e one kg of potato, 250 gms of dal and 2kgs of wheat flour. The quantum of ration made us wonder how unrealistic and callous the Government Officials could be, where they do not want to visualize the basic food requirement of a human being. Even if one were to
overlook the qualitative content of this ration and focus on the prescribed quantitative parameters of the poverty line i.e 2400 calories, it is nowhere near the
mark. There is no denying the fact that the shadows of the feudal mindset loom large over the bureaucracy as well. It would be interesting to note that this dole
from the Government is not even a patch on what the agricultural workers get as a wage from the landlords.
Today in many places the workers have managed to get 7-12 kgs of grains as their wage and for this they fought long and tough battle.
Ghasia Tribe
Nai Basti a settlement of almost 50 households of Ghasis adivasis is located on the Highway about 8 km from the District Headquarters’. These settlements are
right next to the residence and offices of the top District Officials and Police Lines. About 4 years ago these adivasis had migrated from village Markudi,
Block Nagwa, Tehsil Robertsganj, in search of livelihood. Markudi, Chiroi and several other villages of Block Nagwa are the most backward villages of this
district. These villages numbering almost a hundred are located in a plateau (where the famous Vijay Garh fort is also located). These villages are still very
remote, for there are still no roads connecting them. Even today they are accessible only through the forest, and to reach the Block Office they have to
cover a distance of at least 15 km on foot. Despite making all kind of efforts like working as agricultural workers, rickshaw pullers, mine workers away from their homes, these families were unable to manage two square meals a day.

Seventy years old Somari Devi says that the area where their ancestors had settled was also a rocky and mountainous terrain. In order to escape the bondage
and atrocities of the rulers they settled in the deep forests. They cleared the forest and cultivated coarse grains like Sava, Kodo, banking entirely on the
monsoons for irrigation. Their livelihood was dependent on forest produce through making and selling products like brooms made from Baghai grass, combs and
drums called “ Mander” (made of mud) used in Karma dance. Once there was restriction and access to the forest and the forest produce this crucial economic support was also taken away from them hence they were forced to migrate from their village. Most of this tribe settled near the district headquarters in the hope of better employment opportunities by virtue of being closer to the town. But the reality is that money flow from the earnings from the town simply caters to their secondary needs, but the primary food grain supply is still ensured from the agricultural

For the last 4 years the families have to survive on the wild and poisonous grasses like “Chakwar”(botanical name not known), wild mushrooms and extremely poor quality of rice. The adults some how manage to survive the ill effects of the poisonous
intake but the little children are unable to tolerate the poison and succumb to death within couple of years.

When asked why they don’t migrate somewhere else, they simply said that they have no other place to go and they could only improve if they were allotted land by
the Government. “ It was only in the search of livelihood that we have left ancestral village and settled here ” they mused.

Ghasia tribe is one of the indigenous tribes of this area, had their tribal kingdom around 12th century (around Singrauli) Numbers of these adivasis are spread out in the Singrauli area bordering Bihar and Jharkhand. Karma dance, which is characteristic of these adivasis, depict the entire cultural history and
their relationship with the nature. Even during the rule of the Princely State when they worked in bondage, they did not have enough to eat, and the
families starved. After the abolition of the Zamindari System and enactment of Labour Reform Act in 1950, the Princely State had to relinquish their claim on the
entire land and the Government for relinquishing their claim on land heavily compensated them. The courtier of the Raja the priestly class, who had come in this
region with the King once upon the time, emerged as new class of Zamindars in the post independent era. In spite of Abolition of Landlordism and Land Reform Act,
the control over the land and village commons got concentrated in the hands of this small section of landlord, as a consequence the benefits of all development schemes like irrigation, leveling of land,boundary construction of agricultural fields were
reaped by this new class of Zamindars. The dalit and adivasis who had toiled to clear the forest to make it cultivable and even tilled it, were denied any
ownership and in fact driven away.

Land Alienation Fundamental Problem Leading To Food Insecurity

The basic reason for these hunger deaths is that the hands that toil do not have any land of their own.
Hunger deaths have often taken place in this area but have failed to come into light. Really speaking the death of these 18 children also highlights only the
tip of the iceberg. If the Administration were to really take these deaths seriously (of which there is no indication as yet) they would realize that it is
high time that land redistribution is the only solution, to this problem. It has to be acknowledged that such radical agrarian reforms can only pave the
way for ensuring food security so that people can lead decent and dignified lives.

The land in which these families are presently settled also belongs to the Forest Department (FD). And every now and than the staff harasses them to vacate this
land. Just around the huts they have sown some 20-30 plants of maize and the forest staffers often abuse them and threaten to destroy these alleging that they
cannot cultivate the forestland. It would be interesting to know that in this patch of land not even a single tree exists, what to mention of forests.
Despite the reported deaths from this community, the FD has been pressuring them to cut these small maize plants. They are so insensitive that they failed to
accept that these plants are basically grown for eating roasted corn fruit (bhuta), and such plantation is insufficient for any food grain production.

The irony is that even these tragic deaths have not shaken the authorities so far, the Administration has failed to either allot land, provide ration cards.
Even after Central Government has made it mandatory to provide mid-day meal to all school going children in the age group of 0-5, they had only promised a mid-day
meal after a month. It is surprising that the extremely malnourished children went completely unnoticed by District Health department, which has been implementing Polio immunization programmes for children of this community every year. None of the
medical teams bothered to take stalk of the real health status of the children, and it really raises questions about the efficacy and outreach of the
health programme.

We have all heard of Kalahandi but similar images are not very rare in Sonbhadra and neighboring districts.
This is not the first incident of the hunger deaths in the area, but complete erosion of sources of livelihood has caused many deaths in most of the villages.

Some Historical Facts

Sonbhadra district is rich in minerals and other natural resources that contribute the maximum revenue for the State Treasury every year. The land is extremely fertile, with extremely good crop yield,infact the name “Sonbhadra” has been derived from this “ gold yielding” character of land and forest. In the folk songs there is widespread mention of ‘Sonchirai’,‘Sonpehri’, ‘Sonmachli’, ‘Sonphadi’, ‘Sonnadi’, which highlights the rich heritage of the area. But the people enjoyed this rich heritage only till the resources were under the control of the community and
not under the State control. Once the forest was nationalized the plight of forest dependent communities and forest dwellers has steadily deteriorated. Today the FD is the biggest “Landlord”and controls more than 40% of land in the District. It
is understood that because of tough terrain, dense forest and fear of the wild animals, the revenue records of this particular area were not prepared
during the British rule, as had been undertaken for rest of the country. Subsequently the British made land settlement procedures only with rulers rather
than the peasants, in fact whatever land records were prepared were done on the basis of visual measurement.

The main objective of ZA (Zamindari Abolition) act was to grant land to the tiller and remove all intermediaries. But in the case of Sonbhadra district the entire process was postponed for 18 years, all big landlords appropriated the land, drove away all those poor who were tilling the land, and registered the land titles in their names and even those of their cattle. Therefore in Sonbhadra, Chandauli and Mirzapur Districts the land was looted rather than redistributed which was diametrically opposite to the intention of the ZA act. Due to feudal repression and
lack of any alternative support structure the dalit and tribals tiller were forced to clear the land in and around the forest, to fend for their livelihood.

Unfortunately the Government has gone on declaring all forests either reserved, or protected which has further marginalized people. Today where Ghasia tribe
are settled land has been declared as forestland under Indian Forest Act, 1927 (IFA). According to the section 4 of this act before declaring any forest area
as Reserved the people have to be served a Notice by the Government, so that the people can file their claims. And only after proper investigation of their
claims the land can be declared reserved under section 20 of IFA, and there are provisions for settling the claims between sec. 4 and sec. 20 of the act.

However in this area once again the law of the land has not been implemented - without settling any of these claims the land was declared as forestland, and
even today 500 villages are part of this dispute.
Since 1997 the FD has been trying to chase away these people, using all kinds of unscrupulous methods to evict them. The story of south of Kaimur, Singrauli of
this district is even more startling. It is now known as the “energy capital of India”, for its highest power generation capacity. One could recall that in
1964 it was with the construction of the “Rihand Dam”,symbol of so-called development that this entire process of displacement and alienation of the adivasis
was triggered off. As a result the most fertile land was submerged under water, and lacs of people lost their homes and livelihood. Infact there are no
records that tell us the destiny of at least 20 thousand people who were forced to leave. It is tragic that no viable rehabilitation plan was choked out for
these displaced people. They were only doled out plots of 40x60 yards for residential purposes and for the last 20 years they are awaiting fair compensation for the agricultural land that had been taken away from them. The question of a sustained livelihood for these displaced people still remains unanswered. Who
benefited from the construction of the Rihand Dam? Was it for irrigation or for power generation? Even today U.P Government has no answer to this question. On the
contrary, it has become a dumping ground for the coalmines, powerhouses, industries, and their townships. The fly ash released by the 6 Powerhouseslocated on the periphery of the dam is converting this reservoir into a poisonous well. The people who live around the reservoir are forced to consume the highly radioactive water and tolerate the toxic atmosphere so created.

Whenever these displaced people have tried to fight for their rights they have been brutally crushed by the administration and entangled in false criminal
cases to the extent of being declared as “Naxalites”.

The Struggle

At the time of various land settlement and particularly at the time of the Kaimur Survey Settlement (1982), the land conflict was further aggravated. This happened due to the connivance of the survey officials and revenue machinery. This
continuous robbing away of their resources has caused a deep set of resentment amongst the adivasis,particularly the youth and women. Over the last few years the political sensitization of these people has led them to question why only their ancestral land has been taken away? Why there is no justice forthcoming from the administration? The callous administration has no answer to this question except the ‘bullet’.
The fact that there is no scope for protest only goes to prove that the State is trying to completely shrink all democratic space. In order to avoid resolving the
issue of land restoration to the adivasis, the administration has resorted to creating an atmosphere of terror in the area.

The bottom line is that the hunger deaths are a result of a lack of political will to implement the agrarian reform in its true spirits. Even today there is
reluctance on the part of the State to admit that the tiller of the land has to own the land. The argument and campaign by some leading economists that revamping
and privatization the Public Distribution System can solve the problem of hunger, and prevent the hunger deaths, is very difficult to pallet. The issue of food
security is directly related to the equitable distribution of land and it seems difficult to locate a solution for this else where.

It is true that the adivasis were completely unfamiliar with the money economy but their deep understanding of life sciences is evident from the fact that they know that ownership and control of the basic resources of land is the solution to the problem of livelihood of all agrarian people. Urban intellectuals and economists fail to look at the problem in the eye, when they avoid the issue of implementing agrarian reforms. The life experience of the common people have led them to believe that no dose from Government or other agencies will ever solve the problem of hunger, it is they themselves who have to organize themselves and fight to recapture their lost land. In keeping with this understanding they are organizing themselves, so that their tomorrow is not marred by hunger deaths. There are fresh instances
where land being captured in the leadership of women in Tehsil Robertsganj and Ghorawal, where they have also fought to get the wage hike from 5 to 7-12 kg of
food grain.

Names of the Children who died in past few months:

1. Punnu s/o Ramsubak

2. Roshan s/o Shivkumar


3. Bijmal s/o Shivkumar

4. Lalmohan s/o Puneshwar

5. Printa d/o Puneshwar
6. Jiuat s/o Ramvriksh

7. Dhiman s/o Mangru
8. Phool sings s/o Kalinger
9. Deepak s/o Sukhan

10. Somaro s/o Asha

4 ”
11. Jeeravati s/o Suneshwaf

7 ”
12. Kairi s/o Tarku

5 ”
13. Saransh s/o Katwaru
3 ”
14. Bimli s/o Katwaru
5 ”
15. Ramkaran s/o Sukalu
5 ”
16. Ramgovind s/o Sukalu
4 ”
17. Kavita s/o Sudama
5 ”
18. Kuwara s/o Santosh

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