A five-year-old Dalit child allegedly died of hunger in Jharkhand’s Latehar district on May 16. Her father, a brick-kiln worker, said he had not been earned any wages during the lockdown.
Video testimonies released by activists who visited the child’s home in Hesatu village, show family members, neighbours and community health workers attributing Nimani’s death to hunger. “She died of hunger,” the child’s mother, Kamlawati, can be heard saying in one of the videos. “She had not eaten for four-five days. What can we eat when there is nothing to eat?”
Nemani, according to eyewitnesses, collapsed on Saturday evening and died en route to the local health centre.
The district administration refused to “confirm” the incident, saying there was not enough information to attribute the death to hunger. “From what I have heard, the child had eaten breakfast and gone to a nearby pond to swim,” said Zeeshan Qamar, Latehar’s district commissioner. “She fainted and died in the evening. If she had eaten breakfast, how can it be a hunger death?”
A local anganwadi worker, Asha Devi, also said the child had bathed in the river earlier in the day, but added that she had been informed by neighbours that the five-year-old had gone hungry for several days.
Nimani’s father, Jaglal Bhuiyan, said he was away at the time of her death, working at a brick kiln in another part of Latehar with two of his children. Since they hadn’t been paid any wages during the lockdown, he had not been able to send money home, he said.
According to right to food activist and economist Jean Dreze, who visited Hesatu on Sunday, the 10-member family has no land or ration card. Dreze said that the village headman had confirmed that no rice had been given to the family from the Rs 10,000 contingency fund that is earmarked for families with no ration card. “He said that the fund had run out,” said Dreze.
The headman, Dreze said, had written to the block development officer requesting a second instalment – but to no avail.
Dreze said the family did not receive any support from the government except for one instalment of Rs 500 in her Jan Dhan Yojana account. The family was surviving almost entirely on the assistance of neighbours.
“Neighbours used to give food to the family,” said anganwadi worker Asha Devi in her video testimony to Dreze. “But as one of them said, ‘How much can they give?’”
The family does not own a mobile phone and could not be contacted. Neighbours, too, were unreachable – mobile connectivity in Hesatu village is limited.