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Bhagalpur children get rice: ‘Finally, something has been done for us’

On July 6, The Indian Express, as part of a month-long series to understand the effect of Covid-19 and the lockdown in smalltown India, had reported on the plight of children of the Musahari tola, a Mahadalit colony, in Badbilla village.

Rice distribution at Shahabad school on Friday. (Express Photo by Dipankar Ghose)

AT 8 am Friday, Krishn Kumar walked through the bylanes of Badbilla village in Bhagalpur, with a register in hand. Born in the Musahari tola of the same village, and now a ‘shiksha sevak’ at the primary school in Shahabad where children from his community study, he knocked on the doors of 28 houses with the same message.

He first confirmed that the family had a child studying in the school, and then told the parents to reach the school by 9 am so that they could get 8 kg rice (per student).

“When I gave them the message, the reaction was so good. They said finally, something has happened for them,” said Kumar.

Read | Under lockdown again, Bhagalpur caught between fear of disease, economic impact

Two hours later, 28 parents left the school with foodgrain for their children.

On July 6, The Indian Express, as part of a month-long series to understand the effect of Covid-19 and the lockdown in smalltown India, had reported on the plight of children of the Musahari tola, a Mahadalit colony, in Badbilla village. They had turned to rag-picking and begging after the mid-day meal scheme, which guaranteed one stable meal a day, came to a standstill as schools were closed.

Hours after the report was published, the Bihar government issued a statewide order stipulating that ration, as well as money through Direct Benefit Transfer, be provided to school children for 80 working days from May to July. The Patna High Court and NHRC also took suo motu cognizance of the report.

According to the order, children in classes 1-5 will get 8 kg of ration and Rs 358 via DBT, calculated on a daily rate of 100 gm and Rs 4.48 for 80 days. Students of class 6-8 will get 12 kg of ration and Rs 536, based on a daily rate of 150 gm and Rs 6.71 for 80 days.

According to the Economic Survey 2019, there are 115 lakh children between classes 1 and 8 who avail of the mid-day meal scheme in Bihar.

On Friday morning, the distribution of foodgrain began at the Musahari tola in Badbilla. Devendra Singh, principal of the primary school in Shahabad, said he got a text message from the Sultanganj Block Education Officer on Thursday night saying that ration should be distributed to “guardians of registered students”.

Read | First Covid, now hunger, Bhagalpur migrants start packing — again

In the morning, Singh assembled his staff and took stock of the rice in the school. There was enough for 32 students, at 8 kg per child, and a list of 28 students, from classes 2-5, was made. Krishn Kumar was then sent to notify the parents.

“We distributed 8 kg per child… There are a total of 145 students in the school, and we will need more stock. We will ask for more ration, and distribute it when we get it. All parents were asked to wear masks and ensure social distancing,” said Singh.

Parents were made to sign a register to confirm that they had received the foodgrain.

At the Musahari Tola, Meena Devi, who picks garbage like everyone else in the area, smiled and said, “For the first time, something has been done for us. Our work has come down to nothing, and there was a struggle for food at home. This makes it so much better. Bahut sahuliyat mila (We have got a lot of comfort).”

The distribution of foodgrain is not the only change. The Indian Express had also reported on how none of the families in the Musahari tola have a pucca house or toilets. On Wednesday evening, for the first time in 24-year-old Jangla Kumar’s memory, two block administration officers turned up at the village.

“They asked us if we had pucca homes, and we replied that nobody did. They asked about the road, and we showed them the slush. They asked about toilets, and we said we had none. They then asked us to write down all our details. I put down everyone’s names and gave them the list. They said they would do something. Now, at least there is some hope,” Kumar said.

Meanwhile, back at the school in Shahabad, Devendra Singh has noticed another change. “For the last three days, I have been getting queries from parents on how to register their children in school. I tell them that the registration will take time because of the lockdown. But at least they are coming,” he said.

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