Thursday, April 20, 2006

Voice of voiceless

I believe that he who has less in life should have more in law.
-RAMON DEL FIERRO MAGSAYSAY -third president of the Republic of the Philippines

Kalwati, aged 30, of Raup Village in Sonbhadra district told how she is struggling to feed her five young children since becoming a widow:

"The six of us live in a desperate situation and hunger is a primary concern. We only eat once a day, and the meal normally consists of some rice or roti (flatbread) and salt, nothing more. I even have a red ration card allowing me access to food assistance by the Public Distribution System (PDS). The PDS shop is located eight kilometers away and provides 20kg of rice and 15kg of wheat for 90 rupees. However, the 35kg of wheat and rice that we receive is not sufficient for even 10 days. By the end of every month, we are starving. Every time we receive more wheat, my children are so hungry they will eat just plain flour. This is what my daughter just did this afternoon.

"My husband was the sole income earner in our family, but he was murdered by the local mafia two-and-a-half years ago. Since his death, I have been the sole breadwinner in the family, as my children are too young to work. I weave brooms and straw mats. I earn approximately 2.50 rupees for each broom or mat I sell, and I normally make between five and ten a day, but I have to travel almost eight kilometers everyday just in order to sell my products. The money is not enough to buy anything, maybe a few vegetables at most.

"I have five children who depend on me to eat. The eldest, Durgavati, is 12 years old. She does not go to school because she needs to stay at home and care for the house and my other children while I am away trying to sell my brooms and mats. My boys, Sadesh, aged 10, and eight-year-old Rajesh both go to school. The two youngest, son Siri Ram and daughter Rinki are too young to attend school and thus also stay at home. In general, most Raup villagers are involved in the broom making industry. As a result, most of the young girls must stay home and take care of the younger children while their parents are away. I never went to school and my daughters will not either. I am not the only person in this situation, the entire village suffers on a daily basis the same way I do. I ask, why is there no ICDS (government run childcare center) here for our children?

"I used to have the ability to work quickly; however, the nerves in my hand were injured some years ago so now one hand is paralyzed. But it is not possible to get medical attention for my health problems. There is no healthcare or medical facilities for the Raup villagers. In 2004, after the newspapers reported our situation, one doctor did come on a single occasion. He gave us some medicines but we never saw him or any
other doctor again. The district hospital is seven kilometers away in Robertsganj so we can only go if we have enough money to cover the expenses or enough energy to walk. Also, the government hospitals do not have any medicine to give us so even if we do go there, we still cannot afford to buy medicines from the shops.

"My fellow villagers and I are not asking for much. As a tribal community, all we are asking is for some land that we can cultivate and live on, land that we have a right to. The upper-caste villagers in Raup are a very prosperous community and they are doing very well. However they are threatening us to leave as they are laying claim to this land. Where are we going to go then and how will we be able to live? All I want is for my children to be taken care of so that they can live life with dignity."

Chotalal, aged 42, son of Mithailal of Oraw village in Pindra Block under Phoolpur Police Station, Varanasi district, explained how the Musahar community struggle to survive under the control of other groups:
"We have no land of our own. We work in the fields of Dakurs and Brahmins. They are the upper caste people. This work is seasonal, for about two months per year. For a full day's work we are paid 5kg of wheat for a male and 3kg of wheat for a female. We work from 7am to 4pm. Sometimes we get 20-30 rupees per day for men and 5 rupees for women. We have never even hoped for the minimum wage and equal remuneration. If we demanded the minimum wage, the landlords would kill us. If we have any complaints, we must keep quiet. You can't go to the police: the police mean money here. They all work for the landlords.

"For the rest of the year, we work as manual labourers and also make plates out of leaves, which people buy for serving food at marriages and other ceremonies. We earn about 20-30 rupees for making 200 plates.

"The Gramasabah (village council) here has about 90 bigahs (45 acres) of land. This land was taken by the upper castes. We were told that this land was intended to be given to us but the fact is that we do not have this land. I was told that some of the property which is currently held by the landlords stands in our names, but we are not able to use it as our own property. However, we still have to work on it as labourers since the property has been taken by them. We are scared to put any claim on our property.

"We are not even allowed to go to the place where the upper caste people live. Even the backward people do not allow us to come to their houses. This is because we are untouchables. But if there is any work in their households, we are expected to go and do the work. If we are found in the upper caste area without being asked to come there for work, we will be beaten. If there is any crime in the locality, we are by default blamed for it. In the past, there was a murder: 13 of our family members were arrested and put in jail. No one ever dared to complain because it would not make a difference.

"Nearly all our children go to school. But their schooling is over after Grade 4. All our children are dropouts from the school. There are no schools that will educate our children for free and we have no money to pay school fees. The government schools are far away. Even though the fees at government schools are nominal, we do not have enough money to pay. We would like to see our children educated and well-employed but this is not a realistic dream.

"We do not have any medical care or hospitals near by. Nobody from the government would ever come here. Some of us have ration cards but we do not have money to buy rations. In the past, we would have to pay at least 100 rupees to buy our rations, because the public distribution shops were so corrupt. Now, the price is normal, at 10 rupees, but we still cannot afford this."

Bhothu Musahar, aged 55, son of Sukhdev Musahar, residing at Belwa Musahar village, Varanasi district, said that starvation is treated as normal in his

"We have stayed here for about six generations. For eight months we work at a brick kiln. The kiln is about 10 kilometers from here. But we have no option. There is a kiln which is in the neighboring property. It is run by Rajendar Thiwari, the most powerful man in Belwa village. The property is on Panchayat land. The place from which the clay is
collected for this kiln is from the village property. We were told that this property was earmarked for our community to cultivate and build our huts. But we cannot question this since the person who questions Thiwari would not live to see the next dawn.

"For about ten years we worked for Thiwari. He never paid us any money. He used to abuse us for everything. If someone failed to turn up for work he would beat that person when he came to work next time. If anyone fell sick and failed to turn up for work, then also he would beat the person. Women faced the same treatment. Thiwari's son used to do the same. His son, Guddu Thiwari, was very young when he used beat us. I was beaten by him when Guddu was only 20. The kiln manager beat us too.

"Thiwari would give us some vegetables for our work, once a week, and that was the only payment. This was not enough for us. It would be over in a day and the rest would be easily damaged, since what he gave us was already rotten. Once in a while we would get dead animals. These were Thiwari's animals. However, we were not allowed to take any dead animal. Only when Thiwari allowed us we could take them. We never cared how the animal died; we only cared how fast we could cook it. Sometimes we would dig up buried animals a day after without anyone knowing. We did not have any time to fetch food for ourselves since we were not allowed to leave the kiln. We could not earn anything else from other work since no one would employ us. This was because we are untouchables and even if anyone was willing to employ us Thiwari would intervene and prevent it.

"Many people died from starvation and a few from injuries suffered at work and also from beatings. We never dared to complain to anyone. Where could we complain? We had seen police officers staying at Thiwari's house and having dinner with him. Thiwari also used to threaten us that if we ever dared to complain to anyone about this he would get the police to arrest us. He threatened us that instead of the men, he would get the women arrested. So we had no other option. Men, women and children worked for Thiwari. Every child was to work for him. The only concern was whether one could work or not. Young or old, all had to work. Rain or drought everyday we had to work. Even if somebody died and the body was still at home, you still had to go to work or else they would beat us. We were fed up with this situation and the punishments were intolerable.

"It was Dr Lenin who came to our rescue. It was his organisation [PVCHR] which helped us from this mess. He advised us to lodge complaints at the sub divisional magistrates court. But there was no action. Soon there was an opportunity for us to speak at a [tribunal]. After that we came to know that it had asked the magistrate to take action upon our complaint. The magistrate came here. We also came to
know that Dr Lenin also had filed a separate complaint on our behalf to the same officer. One day we were all free. However, we were never paid any compensation. We were informed that the magistrate had ordered 20,000 rupees to be paid to us. But when we inquired at the magistrate's office we were told that since the magistrate is a Brahmin, he would never execute the order, and we were asked to be satisfied with our freedom, and that nothing more is to be expected.

"We have only five ration cards altogether. The ration shop dealer never opens his shop regularly. It is open only one or two days in a week and that too during evening hours. We work in a kiln about 10 kilometers away. By the time we finish our work and return, the shop is closed. The food grains that are to be supplied for a very low price are also sold at a higher price. We are not able to afford such high prices. We know it is illegal. But we cannot complain. The ones who dare to complain will never live to see the result of the complaints. The police, health officer and district administration officers are all teamed against us. Who cares for us?

"Hunger is accepted in our village. It is hard to manage the children. By night they start crying and refuse to sleep [due to hunger]. We have no option. We beat them hard so that they cry for a while and are soon tired and that is how we put our children to sleep.

"Many have died of starvation here. Bahru Musahar's family is one example. His wife and two children died within four weeks of one another. His daughter Reena died when she was five-years-old. Then his wife Kismati Devi died, and soon his other daughter Hasna, who was nine-months-old: all within about four weeks of this year. Bharu has lost his senses now. This is not strange for us. Every year in July, August, September and October a few children die here due to malnutrition and acute starvation. No one cares for us."

Mr. Mulayam Singh Yadav
Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh
Chief Minister's Secretariat
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
Fax: + 91-522-2230002/2239234


1. Justice A. S. Anand
National Human Rights Commission
Sardar Patel Bhaven, Sansad Marg,
New Delhi - 110 001
Tel: + 91 11 23346244
Fax: + 91 11 23366537
E-mail: or

2. Justice A P Mishra
Uttar Pradesh Human Rights Commission
6-A Kalidass Marg
Lucknow Uttar Pradesh

3. Mr. Jean Ziegler
UNCHR, Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
c/o Mr. Carlos Villan Duran
Room 4-066
Palais Wilson,
Rue des Paquis 52,
Fax: +41 22 917 9010

4. Mr. Anthony Banbury
Regional Director
World Food Programme
Unit No. 2, 7th Floor
Wave Place Building
55 Wireless Road
Lumpini, Patumwan
Bangkok 10330
Tel: +66-2-6554115
Fax: +66-2-6554413
Email: or

5. Mr. Gian Pietro Bordignon
Country Director
World Food Programme
2 Poorvi Marg, Vasant Vihar,
New Delhi 110057
Tel: +91-11-26150000
Fax: +91-11-26150019

6. Dr. N.C. Saxena and Mr. S.R. Sankaran
Supreme Court of India
SAMYA, R-38A, 2nd floor
South Extention - part 2
New Delhi - 49
Fax: +91-11-5164 2147