| A villager carrying jhuris, the making of which is one of the few vocations in Bengal’s hunger heartland. Four of them sell for Rs 30. It takes more than a day to make them
Bamundiha, Aug. 23: Four days after her mother’s death, Habi Pramanick was happy like she had never been in the past fortnight.
The 23-year-old, whose mother died after going without food for a week, was cooking rice today.
Around 11.30 am, she was blowing into an earthen oven and flames were leaping up at Namopara, in West Midnapore’s Belpahari.
“Today is a special day,” Habi said. “I and my father went out in the neighbourhood this morning to beg for some rice. Today, we will eat a proper meal after many days….”
When her mother had wanted a little rice to eat in her last days, Habi didn’t go out to beg because many in the village of about hundred were starving. Today, she did to complete Anchala’s last rites ritual.
Some of the neighbours scraped their baskets to give the young woman rice today.
As Habi blew the chullah, her father Nibaran, who had borrowed an aluminium pot from a CPM member of the panchayat samiti, was taking out rice from a cloth bag to clean them before cooking.
| Nibaran Pramanick, frail from days of starvation, outside his hut. Telegraph picture
“Fate…. Today, we can eat a bellyful,” Nibaran, 55, said, wiping tears.
The father and daughter did not have money to cremate Anchala. They buried her in a riverbank.
Rain over the past few days has made Namopara, about 250 km from Calcutta, almost inaccessible from Belpahari town. The red moram road from Belpahari town that passes through a dense forest is now all mud and slush. Nibaran’s hutment is leaking from the roof at several places. The tarpaulin the Belpahari village panchayat had provided six months ago is tattered.
“Three months ago, Nibaran’s name had figured on a list of villagers who were to get home-building assistance under the Indira Abas Yojna. For some unknown reason, it was scratched off,” said Manick Mahato, the CPM leader who lent Nibaran the cooking pot.
In the heart of poverty, politics refused to take the backseat. Mahato alleged that the Jharkhand Party-led panchayat samiti and village panchayat were not letting the area develop. Village panchayat chief Rekha Hembram, who admitted yesterday that Nibaran’s family was starving, said lack of government grants had made it impossible.
The administration said it was yet to establish whether Anchala died of starvation. “The condition of Nibaran’s family was very bad. But, we can’t say that Anchala died of starvation,” block development officer Aghore Roy said.
Almost everybody at Namopara and neighbouring Dompara live hand-to-mouth, making ropes from babui grass, collecting sal and kendu leaves or making bamboo baskets.
“Sal and kendu leaves fetch Rs 20 to Rs 25 a day. But they are few during monsoon. The government must be knowing that a family cannot afford two meals a day with that income,” said Asit Midda, 27, who makes wicker baskets (jhuris). Four of them sell for Rs 30. He has a wife and son at home.
The few who have managed jobs in fields where aman paddy is being transplanted, earn about Rs 30 a day. The transplantation is expected to continue for another month.