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Murshidabad Starvation Deaths

Posted Online on Friday 2, September 2005 11:20 IST

People's tribunal on Murshidabad Starvation Deaths

The Milli Gazette (online edition)

Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), in collaboration with Howrah-based Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (Masum) have decided to organise a public hearing on the starvation deaths in West Bengal next month. Following is the concept paper released by AHRC on 19 August 2005:

Public Hearing on Starvation and Malnutrition in Murshidabad, West Bengal, September 2005
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), in collaboration with Howrah-based Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (Masum), is to organize and conduct a public hearing on matters of hunger and starvation in West Bengal. Hunger, malnutrition and starvation deaths are commonplace among indigenous, downtrodden and rural communities in the state, yet little intervention has been seen on the administrative level. Systemic denial, apathy and indifference exist among government officials towards hunger and starvation in India and brings into question the commitments made in India's constitution to protect each citizen's right to food. 

Through the AHRC and Masum's experience working in West Bengal, we have come across many instances where starvation and malnutrition occur directly as a result of government policies and actions, as is often the case with evictions and daily wage labourers. Other times, while hunger arises from external sources, it is exacerbated by the administration's refusal to acknowledge the issues at hand and act appropriately in providing assistance to the affected victims.

Murshidabad is one district in West Bengal where government inaction and neglect has severely worsened the hunger situation. Since 1995, the villagers living along the Padma River have been losing their homes and livelihoods to the river's erosion. Hundreds of starvation deaths have been reported and while funds have been earmarked to rehabilitate the land, no compensation, construction or assistance has been provided to the victims. Everyday, more and more people are faced with the harsh realities of life without food, and hunger-related diseases are rampant. The victims' voices are being met with a deaf ear; the government is either unwilling or uninterested in protecting these victims' lives.

The tribunal, to be held in Jalangi, Murshidabad from September 22-26, will consist of expert panelists and judges. The hearing itself will span two days, whereby victims of starvation and malnutrition in Jalangi will give their testimonials as to their current situation, and will culminate with a summary press conference. The accounts will then be compiled into several reports to be submitted to the relevant government and non-governmental agencies. 

While the documentation of the hearing will enable us to better understand and highlight the causes and core issues of hunger in the area, the main objectives of the tribunal stem from this continuous denial and apathy among the administration. In part, by witnessing and documenting detailed victim accounts, it is our hope to breach the absolute denials of the government on starvation deaths in remote areas of West Bengal. Furthermore, we hope to question the inaction of the authorities and other civic bodies, calling on them to perform their constitutional obligations, thereby enabling the people to realize the basic right- right to food- which would also fulfill the government's obligation to its people and to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Moreover, although the tribunal will be held exclusively for starvation victims in Murshidabad, the findings can easily be extended to general hunger issues in India, and we hope to address the government's failures in this larger context.

More info from:

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHCR)
19/F, Go-Up Commercial Building,
998 Canton Road, Kowloon, Hongkong S.A.R.
Tel: +(852) - 2698-6339 Fax: +(852) - 2698-6367

General Secretary, Masum, Howrah: Kirity Roy:

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