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Posted Online on Tuesday 29, March 2005 02:50 IST


Muslims in Murshidabad starving to death
They come and take our photos only, victims say

By Nadim Ahmad, The Milli Gazette

Published in the print edition of The Milli Gazette (16-30 April 2005)

Jalangi, Murshidabad, 28 March: People of this area are fighting to save their lives from death by starvation and there seems no light of hope for them in the near future. No help reached them until today when we offered some food packets to some of the worst affected people here. So far the area has witnessed only a few visits by the local Block Development Officer (BDO) and some mediapersons in addition to local political leaders. 

Ramola Bewa, wife of late Panchu Mondal who died of starvation a fortnight ago, told me that she has not seen any help so far. All they did was "fotok tullo" - took my photographs. 

Most affected areas here seem to be the villages of Biswaspara, Direpara, Hogladire, Jaikrishnapur and parts of the Jalangi town itself. All these areas consist of poor Muslims with the exception of Hogladire inhabited by the Hindu community which is comparatively well off because they control the business here and manage to garner all available jobs too.

Local people tell us that this situation has been persisting here since around 10 years but the stark effects have been felt only recently. It all started in a big way in 1994 when river Padma started to change its course by cutting into its western banks here and gradually swept away all the agricultural lands of the inhabitants of the villages of Biswaspara and Hogladire as well as Jalangi town. The river even cut into the inhabited areas of Jalangi town. Now almost the whole of the historical town of Jalangi has been swept away and whatever is left of the old town of Jalangi is marooned in the middle of river Padma. 

People informed me that during the last 10 years river Padma has changed its course by 8 to 10 kms westwards. Whole of Jalangi population has migrated to Biswaspara, Jaikrishnapur Schoolpara and Gauripur "Bhanganpara" (i.e., swept away locality, in Bengali language). In this way, almost whole of the proper Jalangi population has now migrated to Choapara Panchayat. Literally speaking, the historical town of Jalangi proper does not exist today, while in Choapara Panchayat there exists "another" Panchayat called "Jalangi Choapara" at Jaikrishnapur. Those who had land settled at Biswaspara. At Jaikrishnapur Schoolpara and Gauripur "Bhanganpara", the administration has allocated land for resettlement. Even here some of the relocated areas get submerged in water during the monsoon season. Moreover, they have not been allotted any financial help for rebuilding their collapsed houses. People have built shanties on their own. Financial assistance from governmental agencies is rare or even denied. Because of no bandh or barrage, river Padma is most active near this small town of forty thousand people.

Those affected by this calamity are living in a dire situation of slowly starving to death. Their main source of income was agriculture or related activities. Now they do not have any source of income left in the area. People of working age are seen biding their time loitering around. A very few of them get to work occasionally and for this they get paid around rupees 30 for females and rupees 40 for males, after a full-day's work. They mostly engage themselves in either household work, rickshaw-pulling, agricultural labour or menial jobs at shops and stores which are few and far between. Some of them also do bidi-making and the like. 

The total affected population here is around 25,000 and the most affected are the elderly and children below the age of five. All of them are suffering from malnutrition. Most of them have not been allotted even the below poverty line (BPL) ration cards. At the minimum, one kg of ration on a daily basis is required urgently for at least fifty families tottering at present on the line of death in Jalangi, i.e., Biswaspara, Schoolpara and Gouripur Bhanganpara. There are other needs such as clothing specially for women some of whom could be seen half-naked because they simply do not have clothes. Shelter is also urgently required for some. Wherever this correspondent went, people took him as a representative of some aid agency and asked him to register their names in his notebook, hoping to get some help. They stare curiously at every newcomer. The area needs a long-term concerted rehabilitation programme.

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