The family of Santoshi Kumari, the Jharkhand girl who died asking for rice after her family was denied food rations for six months, was forced out of their home in Simdega district’s Karimati village on Friday evening. The family sought shelter with a local activist in a neighbouring village, who requested police protection for them. On Saturday morning, however, the police took the family back to Karimati, where they are being guarded.

“We took them back to their house this morning and have deputed a police force to ensure their safety,” said Samwell Linda, the thana-in-charge at Jaldega police station. “As such the villagers have told us they have no opposition to Koyli Devi, but we will provide protection till everything calms down.”

Eleven-year-old Santoshi Kumari died on September 28, eight months after her family was denied food grains under the public distribution system because their ration card was not linked to Aadhaar. District and block officials, however, claimed that the child died because of malaria. This week, after news of the incident was reported in the national media, both the central and state governments ordered inquiries into Santoshi’s death.

Late on Friday evening, however, the child’s family was allegedly attacked and forced to leave their village after threats by other villagers of Karimati. After their belongings were thrown out of their house, Santoshi’s mother Koyli Devi, her grandmother and three siblings escaped to the neighbouring village Patiamba, 8 km away, to take shelter at the home of local social activist Taramani Sahu.

The activist is unsure of the whereabouts of Santoshi’s father, who is allegedly mentally ill.

‘Ration dealer was involved’

“The villagers have been threatening Koyli Devi for more than a week, ever since she went to the State Food Commission to make a complaint,” said Sahu, a field worker who helps implement the state government’s rural employment and food welfare schemes. “The villagers are afraid that the state will now stop ration supply for all of Karimati, and they have accused Koyli Devi of bringing disrepute to the village.”

Balram, another social activist from the district, believes that the threats against Koyli Devi probably intensified on Friday because a central government team, appointed to inquire into the child’s death, had already reached Ranchi and would soon be making its way to the village.

“I am not sure about the identities of all the villagers who threatened the family, but when I spoke to Koyli Devi on the phone later, she mentioned that the local ration dealer was one of them,” said Balram, who only goes by his first name.

When Koyli Devi and her family escaped to Patiamba village, Taramani Sahu was in Ranchi on a work trip and her house was locked.

“A neighbour called me to say that the family had landed at my door, and I requested the neighbour to take them in till I got back,” said Sahu, who then also called the block officials to request for police protection for the vulnerable family. “But this morning, I was told that the police came and took the family back to their house in the same village where they were being threatened. I am feeling terrible about this.”

Sahu has also been told that the villagers of Karimati are allegedly making threats against her too. “Apparently they have threatened to beat me if I show up in that village again,” said Sahu.

However, officials at the Jaldega block police station, under which Karimati falls, claim that Koyli Devi and her family are not in danger because they have been provided with police protection.