People dying of starvation and Govt urging them to go ‘Digital’ and ‘Cashless’

People dying of starvation and  Govt urging them to go ‘Digital’ and ‘Cashless’ A cruel joke on the Indigenous Peoples of Central India - Stan Swamy Adivasi People in interior villages of central India are dying of starvation.  Here are some examples: (1) Indradev Mali, aged 40, of Sarugaru Kala village in Katkamsandi block of Hazaribagh district, Jharkhand, died of starvation on 11th Dec. His wife testified that two months ago their family BPL  card had been changed into health card by block officials and consequently the monthly rations had been cut off.   Indradev’s death made fellow-villagers angry vs local govt servants.  Immediately block officials descended on the village and tried to pacify the bereaved family with  economic benefits in cash and in kind. [source: Prabhat Khabar, Ranchi ed.,12 Dec.2016] The moral of the story is that a poor man must first die so his family can avail of govt’s  economic assistance! Now, how do you tell this family to go Digital and Cashless? (2) Shabijen Bibi of Pratapur village in Dumri block of Giridih district, Jharkhand, starved with her two small children (a boy and a girl) for two days. Not being able to bear the hunger-cry of her children and at the same time not being able to light  the hearth at her home, the mother threw her children into a well and fled from the village. When villagers recovered the bodies of the dead children, they traced the woman and handed her over  to the police. The police promptly arrested the woman on charges of murder and threw her into jail. [Hindustan, Ranchi ed. 14 Dec.2016] This is the great achievement of the local administration!                                                                                     Now, how do you tell this family to go Digital and Cashless? (3) A tragic situation is emerging among the indigenous population of central India where  an indigenous person going to deposit  his small savings in the bank, is accused as channeling Naxalite money and his hard-earned savings  is counted as black money. He is harassed and even jailed. Verily, a sinister way of bringing the already impoverished Adivasi to a state of destitution.                                                                                                   Now, how do you tell this Adivasi to go Digital and Cashless? (4)  The rural situation of central India is such that about half of the villages do not have internet connection, have faulty electric connectivity and most of all nearly half the rural population is illiterate. How would they use this wonder called digital technology? Now, how do you tell this people to go Digital and Cashless? (5) A massive national baseline survey was initiated under the auspices of Indian Social Institutes New Delhi and Bangalore to bring out a status report on various entitlements. From June to August 2016, 96 local organisations were involved in collecting household data and village data pertaining to household and community entitlements in approximately 1840 villages across 12 states: Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Jharkhand, Gujarat, Karnataka, Kerala, Maharashtra, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and West Bengal.  Some of its findings are disturbing: (i) Identity cards:  62% do not possess a caste or tribal certificate. People are asked to apply for caste / tribal certificates as needed. Many expressed that they go through procedural harassments and at times, abandon the effort to get certificates, out of frustration. In the absence of a caste / tribal certificate, there is a high likelihood of households being deprived of basic entitlements. (ii) Aadhaar Cards:  30 % of family members do not possess Aadhaar card. While initiating issuance of new ration cards under NFSA, the families were told, to first get an Aadhaar card and then apply for a ration card. In many cases, new ration cards under NFSA were not issued as the head of the households did not possess an Aadhaar card. To deny food entitlements to the poor on the basis of an identity card, despite having a ration card under the old system, is unjustifiable. Right to food of the poor is being denied on a technicality. (iii) Voter ID:  About  10 %  of eligible voters still do not have a Voter ID. Households in rural areas are more deprived of issuance of Aadhaar cards and Voter IDs than those living in small towns and urban areas. (iv) Pension: Nearly 54 % of the elderly and 44 % of widows are deprived of pension benefits. Thus care of some of the most vulnerable in society, like the aged and widows, still remains a distant dream. The worst sufferers are from the dalit and adivasi communities.                (v) Maternity financial assistance to pregnant and lactating mothers: The law says a sum of Rs.6000 should be handed over to every pregnant woman to take care of herself and her baby with sufficient nutrient food. At the all-India level, a shocking 66% of the poor are not receiving this much needed help from the govt. Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Bengal where Adivasis and Dalits form a significant section of the population are denying this benefit to over 70%  of the the poorest of the poor. (vi)Care of children: NFSA provides one free meal for children aged 6 months to 5 years through Anganwadis and one free meal for school going children through the Midday Meal (MDM) scheme. Nearly 40 % of children below 5 years and 25%  of school going students are deprived of the single free meal. Deprivation of food in early childhood has deep implications on later life. (vii) Possession of Ration Cards:  about 20 % do not possess ration cards either new or old. Across states, more than 35 % households of Jharkhand and Maharashtra where tribal households are very high do not have ration cards. Sadly the govt is leaving one-fifth of its rural population hungry and starving. (viii) Drinking water and Toilet facility at home:  Drinking water facility is available in 44% of households and toilet facility is available only in 26% of households. In the absence of toilets at home and no public toilet facility many households still continue with the age-old practice of open defecation.  [data quoted above taken from ‘Access to Entitlements of the Marginalised’  by Dr. Joseph Xavier, published by Lok Manch Secretariate, 10 Institutional Area, Lodhi Rd, New Delhi – 110 003] Now, how do you tell this people to go Digital and Cashless? This cruel drama wore different masks. First, it was ‘trace black money’; second, ‘recover money from terrorist outfits; third, usher in ‘cashless transaction’. Several prominent economists, authors, legal professionals have voiced their disapproval individually. Is it not time that they all come on to a common open platform and squarely question the govt and if need be have recourse to legal action? But for humanity’s sake, let this atrocity on the poor stop.

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