Jharkhand: JMM-Congress Government Says Dalit Man, His Two Children Died Of ‘Illness’; Food Commission Says Family Suffering From ‘Chronic Hunger’

Jharkhand: JMM-Congress Government Says Dalit Man, His Two Children Died Of ‘Illness’; Food Commission Says Family Suffering From ‘Chronic Hunger’Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi with Jharkhand Chief Minister Hemant Soren. 

In March this year, when 42-year-old Bhukkhal Ghansi died in Jharkhand’s Bokaro, his family claimed that he had died due to hunger.

Naamo Bhukkhal, marlo bhi bhookhal (His name was hungry and he died hungry),” Bhukkal’s wife Rekha, who lives in a hut in Karma Shankardih village of Bokaro with six family members, had been quoted as saying back then.

Bhukkal’s 14-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter died in May and August respectively. These deaths were also said to have been caused by hunger.

These incidents had come to light months after the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha-Congress-Rashtriya Janata Dal government led by Hemant Soren came to power.

During the Bharatiya Janata Party rule in Jharkhand and in the run up to the assembly elections, Soren and his allies had raised the issue of starvation and malnutrition, and used it to their advantage during the election campaign.

But now, in power, the Soren-led government has refused to accept that Ghansi and his two children had died due to a lack of food.

Not just that, the Soren-led state government also claims that “there have been no such casualties in the state in the past five years”.

The JMM-Congress-RJD alliance came to power only in December 2019.

In response to question by BJP MLAs Amit Kumar Mandal and Amar Bauri, Food Minister Rameshwar Oraon denied that the three had died due to a lack of food.

“As per the letters of Deputy Commissioner of Bokaro…Bhukkhal Ghasi aur uske do bacche ki maut bhook se nahi hokar bimari se hui (Bhukkhal Ghansi and his two children did not die due to hunger, but due to illness).” he said.

“As per the letters, Bhukkhal Ghansi’s daughter Rakhi Kumari was affected by some genetic disease, and after hospitalisation, she would get better, but become ill again. She died on 31 August. Ghansi’s son also died during his treatment..and it was a case of illness too,” the minister added.

However, reports from the ground tell a different story.

Ghansi’s family, reports say, did not have a ration card. The family had applied for it on 12 July 2019 but the approval for it came only on 11 March 2020, five days after Ghansi died. “In the four days leading to Ghansi’s death, they did not cook anything,” an Indian Express report from March says, citing his wife Rekha.

According to the Jharkhand State Food Commission, a statutory body for monitoring implementation of National Food Security Act, the family is suffering from "chronic illness”. Members of the commission had visited the family.

“The Civil Surgeon in the visiting team measured the BMI of every member of the family which was less than the recommended value. It seems that the family is suffering from ‘chronic hunger’,” the commission’s report has said.

As per Asharfi Nand Prasad, Right to Food Campaign convener in Jharkhand, their fact-finding report found that the family was suffering from “malnutrition”.

Bokaro District Commissioner Mukesh Kumar had questioned these claims in March. “They are saying they had not eaten for Bhukkhal’s last four days (sic), though the daughter and sons say they had eaten in that time. The sons earn enough money to buy food. There are several inconsistencies… This does not seem to be a case of hunger death,” he had been quoted by the Express as saying.

“About why no post-mortem had been done, which is required as per protocol, Kumar says the villagers cremated the body quickly,” the Express report says.

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