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Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Death by starvation haunts village in Jharkhand’s Dumka

Home to some 400 Santhals, an indigenous tribe, Mahuadanr has a cemented road, but most of the house are made of mud, with few pucca houses. The village faces an “acute water shortage” in summers and locals barely eat nutritious food.

Written by Abhishek Angad | Dumka | Updated: May 18, 2019 9:48:22 am
Kaleshwar Soren’s sister-in-law Santari Murmu at his house in Mahuadanr.

In Jharkhand’s Mahuadanr village, which falls under the Anansol Kuruwa panchayat in the Dumka Lok Sabha constituency, JMM party chief Shibu Soren — the sitting MP who is known as ‘Guru ji’ — is very popular. However, there is another Soren whose name crops up often.

Kaleshwar Soren, 45, lived alone in a dilapidated kuccha house in the village. He had damaged his legs, and after his ration card was cancelled because it was not linked to an Aadhaar card, Kaleshwar had to depend on others for food. He sold off many of his belongings to avail rice, but eventually died — allegedly of starvation — on November 11.

According to his sister-in-law Santari Murmu, in his last days Kaleshwar had mortgaged his land, and his children have not been able to reclaim it till now.

“We used to give him food, but we too had little than we could afford. People in this village are generally poor and somehow manage to meet their ends meet,” she said.

Rameshwar Kisku, a neighbour, said Kaleshwar was last seen a day before his death and when he did not come out of his house on November 11, he went to check on him where he found him dead. “His house had only two utensils,” he said.

Kaleshwar is survived by his five children — Santosh, Arbin, Sarbin, Mantosh and Manisha. His wife died a few years ago. Sarbin says his father was also neglected by the villagers. He was working in Rajasthan when his father died, but he now stays in the village.

“We left home in search of better prospects, and I had sent some money to my father two months before his death. There was a food crisis at home, but someone should have looked at him. There were so many people at the village,” he said.

A fact-finding report by the Right to Food Campaign, an informal network of organisations and individuals working towards the implementation of the right to food in the country, did not find any grain or food in the house. There was no provision of storing grains or cooking food at all.

It added: “Kaleshwar Soren’s household had a Priority Household ration card issued under the NFSA, that was cancelled sometime in 2016 as it was not linked with Aadhaar. The family had received rations for a couple of months in 2016 before it was cancelled….”

Most villagers say they support Shibu Soren and his son Hemant, but their village has seen little development.

Home to some 400 Santhals, an indigenous tribe, Mahuadanr has a cemented road, but most of the house are made of mud, with few pucca houses. The village faces an “acute water shortage” in summers and locals barely eat nutritious food. The farm output is targeted to their survival and they don’t take jobs under NREGA owing to the longer payment cycle. Most villagers are daily wage labourers and go to Dumka town, where they can earn up to Rs 280 per day.

Permeshwar Tudu, a self-proclaimed supporter of Shibu Soren, said, “Guru ji fought for our Jharkhand and it is the emotional connect that we vote for him, but our condition has not improved.” Tudu owns a small piece of land and survives on subsistence farming. His home has a sack full of rice, and his wife cooks food on wood fuel, but lacks nutritious food such as dal, which they are not able to afford daily.

Even Shibu Soren agrees that the plank on which the Jharkhand was formed has not been fulfilled. “Development should happen and it will happen now,” he said. However, when asked about the death of Kaleshwar, he seemed unaware.

After Kaleshwar’s death, villagers say that the Block Development Officer and other officials visited the family and gave them some money for conducting the last rites as well as a few blankets, 50 kg rice and tarpaulin sheets to cover the roof.

The villagers, however, did not allow officials to take the body for postmortem. This has left a loophole in the accountability of the officials in the district administration department — an official on the condition of anonymity said they could not ascertain the cause of death because of the lack of postmortem report. The official said that the death could have been as a result of an illness.

But for the villagers, it is clear: Kaleshwar’s death was “because of lack of food”.

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