My husband died of hunger. We are left with nothing, not even a grain of rice,” says Usha, wife of Dharmendra who was a seasonal folk theatre artist from Dharauta village in Allahabad district.
26-year-old Dharmendra died on October 23. His neighbours claim that he had not eaten a proper meal in months.
Sushila Devi, a neighbour, said, “He died because they had nothing to eat or drink. Sometimes they would beg for food and people would give them leftovers. But it was difficult to provide them food every day.”
NDTV found that Dharmendra was ill for a year. While some say he had Jaundice, others say, it was Tuberculosis. The Uttar Pradesh government has launched an inquiry into his death.
Dharmendra, who was a Dalit, had multiple vulnerabilities. Apart from his deteriorating health, he could not read or write and did not have a regular source of income. While his mother begged on the streets, his wife Usha, who is differently-abled, malnourished and anemic, was unable to earn.
Two sons were born to the couple in the last three years, but both did not survive. While one was little over a year old and the other was only 12 days old. The two child deaths did not raise any alarm bells in the administration at the Panchayat or the block level.
Sunita, another neighbour, said, “Mother and children were very weak. She had inadequate lactation and was unable to feed the children properly.”
Usha and her children did not receive any social protection from the panchayat, the health system, the anganwadi or the public distribution system.
The family had stopped cooking at home as they did not have a ration card that would entitle them to cheap grain.
According to Sapna, Dharmendra’s mother, her repeated requests for a ration card to the pradhan of the village panchayat, were turned down.
She said, “The pradhan told us that the card will be made once it is made for everyone else and she does not make ration cards at her home.”
The pradhan, Teeja, said the family did not have any documents ready. “I had informed the family that documents were needed and that they could get photocopies made,” she said.
However, Dharmendra’s cousin, Ram Ashray Gautam, alleged that the pradhan doesn’t work without money. He said, “The pradhan took Rs 5000 from my daughter-in-law and till date, the money has not reached the account.”
The administration admits the family should have been a beneficiary of the Antodyaya card meant for the poorest of the poor and the state government’s Samajwadi pension. The Additional District Magistrate (Finance), DS Pandey, said, “We will inquire into this and find out why this did not happen.”
Despite the additional primary health centre being so close to his house, Dharmendra’s illness remained undiagnosed and untreated for a year. At the primary health centre, NDTV found that the doctor was on leave and the villagers referred to the ‘pharmacist’ as ‘doctor’ as he is seen more often that the doctor.
The administration said that a post-mortem could not be conducted on Dharmendra’s body as villagers cremated him without informing them and even before the official inquiry has concluded, Dharmendra’s death has been attributed to illness.
Mr Pandey said, “The village has a primary health centre and a doctor. He didn’t go to the doctor. These ‘type’ of people never go. Even if you ask them to do so, they don’t. He died due to illness. Death due to hunger cannot be a valid reason since his brother is well.”
NDTV found that Dharmendra’s brother and family lived separately and not with Dharmendra’s family.
According to District Magistrate Sanjay Kumar, “The incident has shown a few laxities on the part of the village level functionary and some supervisory officers. We have taken them to task.”
The panchayat has given Dharmendra’s family a new door for their house and a new cot. The family has got a ration card and cash. They have also been promised some land. The irony, however, is that all this was given to them by the administration after Dharmendra’s death.
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