Report of Public tribunal Inquiring into Starvation Deaths at Jalangi
On 10 June, 2204 when the news of death by starvation of five tribals at Amlasol in West Medinipur district in West Bengal appeared in a section of the Kolkata press, the initial public reaction was one of shock and surprise. Many found it hard to believe that at Amlasol some people who were not beggars had died only because they had no food to eat. And it happened in a state where the government has been proudly claiming its exemplary success in rural development and land reforms programme for more than two decades.
As expected, the West Bengal Government refused to accept the fact and tried to explain away the cause of deaths as resulting from malnutrition or chronic ailment. Meanwhile, more news poured in. Investigation revealed that landlessness coupled with loss of traditional livelihood had led to the gradual impoverishment of the Shavar tribals at Amlasol. While some of them had died from hunger, other were actually living on the brink of starvation.
In the face of this revelation, the Chief Minister finally conceded that starvation like situation prevailed in some remote rural areas. That the Amlasol tragedy was the result of official indifference to the people in a backward village in the midst of forests was also borne out by a statement made by Mr. Upen Kisku, the Minister in Charge of backward classes’ welfare. On 4 March, 2005 the minister boastfully announced that Amlasol had now undergone a ‘radical’ change thanks to the development work taken up by the government. By development programme he meant digging tubewells, setting up healthcare centre etc. (The Statesman, 5.3.05)
The Minister thus indirectly admitted that despite the provision of several poverty-alleviation schemes introduced by the central government, Amlasol had so far been cruelly neglected. He also seemed obvious of the fact that Amlasole was not an isolated case. Only a few days before he made the above statement, another tragedy had taken place in Jalangi block of Murshidabad district. As reported in the Statesman (22.2.05) one Alimuddin Sheikh in Dayarampur village at Jalangi had died from hunger. The continuing crosion caused by the river Padma had robbed him of his land and living and turned him almost into a beggar, one year ago. His wife Jaheda, according to the report was also battling for her life and she hadn’t had a morsel of food for days together. On 26 February, the same paper would break the news that though the district administration had meanwhile taken care of Jaheda, it was too late. Jaheda died on 25 February and had her name added to the sordid saga of official insensitivity towards the pauperized people living on the Ganga padma embankments in Malda and Murshidabad districts.