AHRC accuses West Bengal authorities of threatening starving villagers
(Hong Kong, June 30, 2005) Local government authorities in West Bengal, India have threatened starving villagers against speaking to outsiders, the Asian Human Rights Commission alleged on Monday.
Over 500 villagers of the indigenous Munda community were twice threatened not to speak of their grievances by officials visiting their homes in Kumarpukur village during May, the Hong Kong-based regional group reported in a 'hunger alert'.
"On May 1, 2005, Jayanta Bhattacharjee of the ruling Marxist Party (CPIM) visited the village and asked the residents not to voice their concerns to reporters or human rights workers in the area," the AHRC said, referring to a report from the Kolkata-based human rights group Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (Masum).
"On May 3, 2005, uniformed policemen in police vehicles also visited the community and warned villagers not to speak to outsiders about their hunger situation," it stated.
The AHRC has written to Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, concerning the case.
"We are deeply disturbed to learn that government authorities would forcibly try to quieten the plight of the Munda community", Payal Rajpal, programme coordinator of the AHRC, wrote in the letter.
"It is apparent from these threats that the government of West Bengal refuses to acknowledge and address the starvation cases occurring in their state," Bijo Francis, programme officer of the AHRC, added.
"Despite the government's claims that hunger and poverty have been eradicated in the state, the poorest of the poor continue to live in fear and desperation, with no hope of being heard," he said.
The Munda villagers are landless labourers that have been struggling to provide for their livelihoods.
In recent months many have been driven to eat roots and leaves in order to survive.
The villagers are lacking all basic facilities, including food, water, education, primary health care facilities and electricity, the AHRC said.
To date, no government assistance has been provided to the villagers, it said.
The AHRC urged that the relevant authorities provide immediate assistance to the affected victims. It also called for an investigation into the allegation that villagers had been intimidated by the police and local government officials.
About AHRC The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.
Asian Human Rights Commission
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998 Canton Road, Kowloon, Hongkong S.A.R.
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