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Murshidabad Starvation Deaths

Posted Online on Tuesday, 24, May 2005 00:40 IST


Hunger Amidst Plenty

By Ayub Khan

There can be no two opinions about the fact that India has come a long way from the age of bullock carts to supercomputers. Our achievements in science, technology and other fields are indeed remarkable. But at the same time there is a disconnect between the urban and the rural and between the well off and the have nots. This disparity is increasing by the day even as the nation's conscience turns a blind eye on the lot of the starving and naked masses who reside in many parts of the country. Scratch a little off India’s shinning image and you see the rusty reality of starvation and death.

That any citizen of a country like India is dying due to poverty or starvation is in itself a shame. All indicators show that both GDP and food grain production have risen faster than the growth in population over the last 50 years. Despite these gains in the surplus 3 to 5% go hungry everyday. The governments have devised several schemes address the problem. But implementation is lacking and completely dysfunctional in several areas. Tons of food grains are left to rot in state owned warehouses. 

Being poor in India is bad. But if you are poor and also a Muslim you are doubly disadvantaged. To cite but one example is the case of the majority Muslim Murshidabad district in West Bengal. This area bordering Bangladesh seems to be in the bad books of both nature and the successive governments. The expanding river Padma has now submerged the old town of Jalangi in the district. A new town with the same name has come up on its banks. The rapid erosion of agricultural lands had taken a heavy toll on the inhabitants. Scores of residents have been killed due to starvation in recent months. One child reportedly ate dirt before his death. Jobs if any are rare and low paying. Death and despair have turned this once prosperous area into a city of the living dead. This however is no cause of concern for the ruling comrades of the state who never tire of proclaiming their secular and pro-poor credentials. Demolishing all myths of CPIM as a party working for social justice its workers in the area take a portion of the wages of the day laborers in the name of party fund. Kicking in the skeletal bellies of the poor they even usurp 300 grams of rice that they receive as part of the daily ration. 

It took the Hong Kong based Asian Human Rights Commission to bring this issue to light. It sent out a world wide alert but this didn't awaken the mainstream community at large. It was left to the Muslim community to do that. Dr Zafarul-Islam Khan, editor of the Milli Gazette, had to shoulder the responsibility of sending out appeals to central and state governments, politicians and the media to take immediate action. There was deafening silence from the powers that be. The initiative was accused of indulging in anti-CPI-M propaganda. Frustrated, Dr. Khan has now formed a charity organization ( and filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court of India. 

The country's politicians make a hue and cry over the perceived overstepping of boundaries by the judiciary. But they are themselves to blame. If the legislature had discharged its duties responsibly such a scenario would never have arisen. In the past couple of years the Supreme Court had to intervene several times to force the government to check starvation death and implement the various hunger alleviation schemes formulated by the state and central legislatures.

Even more troublesome in all of this is the relative silence of the media and the civil society at large. The media is more interested in unearthing the sex scandals and reporting on who wore what and where. The starvation deaths are not just newsworthy items. Even the soul harvesting Christian missionaries and Muslim-baiting Sangh Parivar (masters at raising the false alarm of Bangladeshis in India) have ignored this area. Maybe they realize that one day the whole area will be completely submerged in the ever expanding Padma and there is no use promoting their agenda here. The wretched residents of Murshidabad are truly a forsaken lot.  «

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