//Eastern UP villagers battle starvation

Eastern UP villagers battle starvation

(Kushinagar): As India celebrates its 57th year as a republic, the country can boast of an economy that’s booming, and of markets that are touching new highs every day. But on the other side of India, people are subjected to the worst indignities just to get their daily meal. Villagers in eastern Uttar Pradesh area are battling starvation every day.

Tough times —In Kushinagar district’s Badauli village, Jhaliya has been forced to forage in rat burrows in the fields to collect grain to feed her family. Over a period of three months, she managed to gather 25 kg of dhan or unpolished rice from the rat burrows. "I work in the fields from morning till night harvesting the farmer’s crop but don’t get enough to eat. So when I am supposed to rest, I dig out food from rat burrows with my hands," said Jhaliya. Legally, Jhaliya should earn at least Rs 58 for a day’s work, but she has never been given more than 2 kg of rice and no cash. But that’s barely enough for one meal for five dependants. And just like the other landless workers in the region, when the harsh winter months offer no agricultural activity, stealing from the rats keeps her from starvation."I will start looking for work when it finishes and if I don’t get work, I will have to starve," said Jhaliya. But Jhaliya is still more fortunate than her neighbour Inarpatiya. Ever since her husband died three years ago, Inarpatiya ate less and less to keep her children going. A week ago she also died. Her mother Jyoti says it was slow starvation.

"They eat once in two or three days. They eat if someone gives them some food," said Jyoti.Jyoti does not know what will happen to the orphans after the only remaining food in the house gets over. And it’s not much, only one sack of grain. Jyoti has not received any official help so far, except Rs 200 for cremating her daughter.

Starvation deaths —With no growth in the farming sector and harvesters increasingly replacing labour in the fields, people still wholly dependant on agriculture for a living are starving across the rural belt of eastern UP. Last year, people died of hunger in the village of Bansgaon barely 10 km from the town of Dudhai. It was only after the local media reported the deaths that Below Poverty Line (BPL) cards were distributed in the area. Most of the villagers have BPL cards now with which they can buy 35 kg of grain from government ration shops at the subsidised rate of Rs 100. But few of them can manage to put even that much money together – Rs 100 at one time.

No govt help —On paper, food for work programmes and employment guarantee schemes exist. On the ground they are nowhere to be seen. "In the winters there is no work so people have no choice but to take credit and buy ration," said a villager. As scavengers in cities trawl through garbage dumps and compete with dogs in search of food, the poorest of the poor in villages eat grass to fill their stomachs as India celebrates its 57th Republic Day.