Standing in front of her kuchcha house in Champanagar village in Jharkhand’s Gumla district, 15-year-old Sulekha Oraon speaks impassively about her mother’s death. Jhibal Tirkey, 40, died on August 26, having given birth at home to her eighth child just a couple of days earlier. Sulekha says they didn’t have money to take her to a hospital, and villagers put together money for her cremation.
It’s what happened to the eighth child that has now brought the tribal family’s story to government attention. The infant girl was handed over by Tirkey to a family allegedly for Rs 10,000, as she needed the money for her treatment and for her ailing husband’s.
After the news broke on Saturday, the baby was taken into its care by the Gumla Child Welfare Committee (CWC). Police haven’t identified the couple who took her. Meanwhile, the Rs 10,000 is almost all gone, spent on treatment, to pay off some old debt, and for the rituals following Tirkey’s death, claimed family members and neighbors. Some also feigned ignorance of where the money was used.
Tirkey had been working till the morning of her delivery at a local grocery store, where she did odd jobs as a helper. Sulekha, who studies in Class 10, says they don’t have a ration card, and lived hand to mouth. Tirkey’s husband Charva Oraon, a rickshaw puller, has been bedridden for the past few months due to a stomach ailment, and the Rs 200 she made daily was the family’s only source of income. Since Tirkey’s death, Charva has been in hospital.
Sulekha, the second eldest of her siblings, recounts that just a few hours after Tirkey came home, the labour pains started. “Mother did not want to go to hospital because she thought she wouldn’t be able to work in case she was operated upon. She used to say who would look after us. Also, we did not have any money to spare for hospital.”
So, a sheet was spread on the floor of the family’s kuchcha home and Tirkey delivered the baby with the help of relatives. The nearest health centre, Sadar Hospital, is just 2 km away, in the Gumla main market.
Says one of the family’s relatives, Rita Tirkey, “Jhibal did not want to raise the child because she had no money. Her husband was also unwell. A couple were ready to take the child and gave Rs 10,000 in return.” Rita says the women of the village helped carry Tirkey’s body for cremation. “It was raining that day.”
Says Gumla CWC member Kirpa Kher, “As per the statement given to us, the woman was not in a condition to raise the child so she gave her up. She received Rs 10,000.” Kher adds that they are waiting to record Charva’s statement. “If he expresses inability to raise her, we will initiate procedure for the girl’s adoption.”
Dr Sachanand Munda, who is treating Charva at Sadar Hospital, says he appeared to have a major stomach ailment. “I am assuming his haemoglobin is also down. We have conducted various tests. One of the major problems is that Charva does not have an Ayushman card which could have helped him monetarily.”
The Ayushman Bharat Yojana started in Jharkhand in 2018.
Under the Antyodaya Anna Yojna (AAY), covering the poorest of poor households, the family should have got 35 kg foodgrain a month. But it doesn’t have the AAY card either.
Kushalmay Kenneth Munda, Circle Officer of the area, says they have started the process to give the family a ration card now. Asked how they had got left out, he says, “The block supply officer will be able to give more details.”
Last month, Chief Minister Raghubar Das announced a second gas cylinder refill under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana to 29 lakh women in the state. However, Tirkey and her family did not have a connection and cooked on wood fire.
Charva’s mother Maudo, who stays in a kuchcha house besides theirs, is eligible to pension under the National Social Assistance programme, but says she has never got any money. While her voter I-card registers her age as 67, her Aadhaar card says she is 51. This anomaly has led to the “confusion”.
Says Rita, “Kitne baar gaye hum log block office, mukhiya ke paas, lekin kuchch nahin hua. Ek bhi sarkar ki scheme ka fayda nahin ho raha hai (We have gone to the block office and mukhiya several times, but nothing happened. We are not getting the benefit of a single government scheme).”
Says Deputy Commissioner, Gumla, Shashi Ranjan, “No doubt this is a very poor family and their circumstances led to the incident. But one has to understand this was their eighth child… We are providing them ration now. They are being helped now.”