Minutes after they buried their 17-year-old daughter at Bokaro’s Tikhara village in Jharkhand this Wednesday, Jiten Marandi and Shanti Devi were asked to put their thumb impression on a paper that stated their daughter did not die of “hunger but of a disease”. Panchayat mukhiya and Panchayat samiti member were insistent on thumb impressions of the couple as “pressure was mounted on them from the top” after a video went viral where Marandi had reportedly said his daughter died of hunger.
“I was overwhelmed with pain, crying. I did not know what was in the letter. Some people came and took a thumb impression. I got to know the content later,” Marandi told The Indian Express over the phone.
Marandi along with his wife and daughter had returned to Tikhara village from the neighbouring Ramgarh district post-lockdown effective March 24 in the absence of work. He had carried his “paralysed” and “mute” daughter on his shoulder, whose condition worsened after that.
Marandi had saved some money from work and his daughter’s disability pension. “But most of the money went in her medicines which we had got from a local medicine shop. Due to lack of money, we could not get her medically checked in a hospital,” they said.
The family members said their daughter could not eat for some days and her stomach bloated following which she died. “Makai ko pees ke uska paani bana k epilate the. Lekin wo pee nahi paati thi. Pet mein gas ho gaya tha. Lag raha tha bhook se mar gayi (After making corn paste we used to give her some soup. But she could not drink it. Her stomach became bloated. It seemed that she died of hunger).”
The letter, meanwhile, certifies that the death had happened owing to a disease even though the 17-year-old’s post-mortem examination was not conducted and neither any doctor had examined her after the death.
The letter reads: “…Humne aanan fanan mein bhook se mrityu ki jankari diye. Jo mere dwara galti ho gayi. Atah aapse nivedan hai ki mere bayano ko chama karte hue social media mein viral par kanooni karwayi nahi karne ki kripa ki jaaye (In a hurry, we said she died of hunger. I made a mistake, and I request to forgive my statement on social media which had gone viral and request you not to initiate any legal action).”
Mukhiya Hemanti Devi signed on the letter, stating that Marandi has asked for forgiveness. Her husband (Mukhiya Pati) Daniram Tutu said: “After the video had gone viral there was pressure from the top…even the BDO said to get a statement with a thumb impression.”
The letter also has a signature of Panchayat Samiti member Parvati Devi who could not be reached.
A call and a message sent to Bokaro DC Mukesh Kumar did not elicit any response.
Meanwhile, the National Commission for Women took cognizance of the death and asked Jharkhand Chief Secretary (CS) Sukhdev Singh for an inquiry. “A disabled girl passed away due to hunger in Jharkhand is an unfortunate incident. Further alleged that the Panchayat compelled them to give thumb prints that the deceased did not die due to hunger,” the NCW tweeted.
When contacted, CS Sukhdev Singh said: “I received an email from NCW. I have asked for an update.”
Some local activists have, meanwhile, given Rs 1000 to the family and some food packets. “Help came after the death, but we would need a consistent supply of ration. Attempts to make a ration card in Ramgarh did not succeed. We are dependent on others,” he added. Marandi is hoping that the lockdown ends so that he could move back to Ramgarh.
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