| A woman carrying bundles of rope made of babui grass in Belpahari. (File picture)
Midnapore, Aug. 22: A tribal woman died in a West Midnapore village on Sunday after going without any food for almost a week.
Days before that her husband had gone to the local panchayat for help. The leaders gave him a lungi.
The authorities might still argue over whether starvation killed 45-year-old Anchala Pramanick or an ailment resulting from it, but her daughter said she had only wanted some bhaat (boiled rice) in her last days.
“For a week, my mother wanted bhaat. But we could not give her anything but water,” said Habi, 23.
At Namopara in Belpahari, 250 km from Calcutta, most of the 100-odd residents are so poor that Habi could not even go out to beg. “All of them are fighting starvation,” she said.
Her father Nibaran, 55, said neither Habi nor he had anything to eat in the past week.
Nibaran could not cremate his wife. Habi lit a bunch of hay and held it on her dead mother’s face to carry out a semblance of a Hindu last rites ritual and then the father and daughter buried her on the bank of the Tarafeni, which flows past Namopara.
Anchala’s village is about 40 km from Amlashol, also in the Belpahari police station area, where eight people had died of starvation in 2004 and one person in August 2005.
The authorities had refused to acknowledge that the cause of the deaths was starvation, saying they were killed by one disease or the other. Most of the diseases they mentioned could have resulted from malnutrition, though.
The chief minister conceded later that conditions of starvation prevail in the region.
Belpahari is a Maoist stronghold. The most lethal ammunition in the rebels’ armoury is the poverty in the region.
Most of the tribals make ropes from babui grass and gather kendu leaves, which is used to make bidi. None of the vocations fetch more than Rs 20 a day. Some also work as labourers. During monsoon, they are all jobless.
Many like Nibaran are also rendered incapable of any work at an early age by poverty.
“My wife was lying sick for the past three months. I could not take her to the block primary health centre 5 km away as I could not afford a cycle van for Rs 40,” he said.
The chief of the Jharkhand Party-led Belpahari village panchayat admitted that Nibaran’s family was starving. “Last month, Nibaran came to us. We gave him 6 kg of wheat,” said Ruprekha Hembram.
Binpur II block development officer Aghore Roy said Nibaran had approached him, too, for help. “I referred him to the panchayat samiti. I heard he had been given a lungi and some foodgrain,” he added.
Nibaran denied receiving any foodgrain. “Only the lungi,” he said.