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Posted Online on Tuesday 29, March 2005 02:40 IST

SPECIAL REPORT

Apathy of the worst kind:
Starvation deaths in Murshidabad

By Zafarul-Islam Khan

Published in the print edition of The Milli Gazette (1-15 April 2005)

In the last issue we broke the story of the on-going starvation deaths in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district. We also made sure to write to many important functionaries of the state and alerted human rights groups worldwide but there is little response. A US-based e-jihadi has even exhorted the West Bengal government to take MG editor “to court for defamation and improper use of journalistic power and privileges”!

The only Muslim organisations which rose to the occasion were Zakat Foundation of India and Markazul Maarif of Hojai, Assam (headed by Maulana MB Qasmi). They have sent fact-finding missions to the area. The Milli Gazette too has sent a fact-finding and relief team to assess the situation and offer immediate help. MG editor has also decided to file a PIL case in the Supreme Court of India as early as possible to force the central and state authorities to take note of the deterioting situation and work for the long-term rehabilitation of the affected population. We will publish a detailed report about these developments in the next issue.

On 15 March both Trinamul and Congress members walked out from WB assembly when the speaker (a Muslim!) disallowed their demand to the state chief minister to make a statement on the issue. Meanwhile, here is an editorial which appeared in The Statesman of Kolkata on 20 March 2005. It candidly exposes the comrades’ apathy and dilemmas in West Bengal:

“STARVATION DEATHS: Dubious games Marxists play

“IT is a matter of shame that the government in power in West Bengal for the last 28 years is moving heaven and earth to adopt dubious and coercive tactics, including lies and terror, to deny starvation deaths in Jalangi. The red brigade is threatening starving locals, specially those whose hearth and home have been devoured by the Ganga, not to spill the beans to the media, and is forcing media-persons not to report. This is not all.

“The Speaker of the state assembly, Hashim Abdul Halim, acted in a highly partisan manner, disallowing the Opposition demand that the chief minister make a statement in the House on starvation deaths. What the Marxists did with starvation deaths in Amlasol and the Dooars, was repeated when the Opposition raised it in the House.

“The irony is that the same Marxists waged a bloody food movement in the state in 1966, when the Congress was in power. The rise in price of rice from Rs 4 to Rs 6 a kg, was enough reason for them to launch a movement, but they failed to cite a single starvation death in the state. They brought out "bhukha michhil", justified killing and dismembering policemen and resorted to arson on a large scale with the objective of seizing power.

“The Marxists then bitterly opposed the then chief minister, Prafulla Sen’s policy of imposing a production levy on rich, rice-growing jotedars. They instigated these "class enemies" to break with the Congress and embrace them as an ally by floating the Bangla Congress.

“The Marxists, in their bid to hide the truth, are attributing all the starvation deaths in the state to old age besides chronic and incurable disease, because that is the only alibi that can save them from mounting criticism of misgovernance and insensitivity to the distress of the poor in the countryside. They are too scared to show their real selves before the crucial municipal elections because that could demolish their political raison d’etre and mar their image of a party of the poor.

“That the party is gradually losing touch with the downtrodden people is proved by the fact that the CPI-M legislator of Jalangi and the local panchayat pradhans refused to issue BPL cards to starving victims, despite knowing that they lost everything in the Ganga and were in no position to sustain themselves.

“Even the march undertaken by the starving to a local BDO office failed to evoke the expected response underlining heartlessness and hypocrisy. But, they did not forget to collect party levies, running into thousands.”

We may remind our readers that Murshidabad was the capital of Muslim Bengal. It was so prosperous and rich that Clive wrote about it in a report to East India Company that it is bigger than London and more rich people are found here than the British capital. Two centuries of British loot and half a century of local misrule have rendered this very place into a blackhole. «

Read Also:

Congress, Trinamul walk out of Assembly

KOLKATA, March 15, 2005: The Congress and Trinamul Congress legislators today staged a walk-out in the Assembly separately in protest against the state government’s “failure to stop starvation deaths in the districts”.

Moving an adjournment motion, Mrs Sonali Guha of the Trinamul referred to the starvation death of Panchu Sheikh, a resient of Jalangi in Murshidabad, yesterday. She said another 25 people were teetering on the brink, accusing the state of looking the other way. Ms Guha also said that the rationing system had virtually collapsed. She demanded a statement by chief minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee on the preventive steps taken so far. Mr Sobhandeb Chattopadhyay, Opposition chief whip said that the state did not learn any lesson from the starvation deaths at Chanchole and Amlasole and failed to improve the PDS in the affected areas.

The Congress separately moved an adjournment motion on the same matter. Mr Asit Mitra said that the state did not send food and medical help to the affected areas and that it was trying to hush up the matter.

Social security construction workers: The government will soon bring the five lakh construction workers of the state under the social security net. For a provident fund scheme to be introduced soon, the workers will have to pay Rs 20 per month and the state Rs 20. They will also be given accident benefit of Rs 10,000 and pension. Women labourers will get maternity leave. Announcing this, state labour minister Mr Mohammad Amin said the matter will be placed in the Assembly soon. 

Council for vocation education: The standing committee of the Assembly on Education, Information and Cultural Affairs and Sport Services has recommended formulation of a Bill to set up an autonomous state council or vocational education and training in the state, the chairman of the committee Mr Padmanidhi Dhar said in the Assembly today. 
(Source The Statesman, 16 March 2005,  http://www.thestatesman.net/page.arcview.php?clid=6&id=99767&usrsess=1)

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