Large scale suicides by the farmers of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka has exposed the grim reality behind the official hype of corporate farming, genetically engineered seeds and soft loans that globalization promises to offer in abundance to the Indian farmer. Indebtedness is driving the farmers of Punjab, the heartland of green revolution to suicide. But this phenomenon is not limited to agriculture only.
Banaras is known the world over for its exquisite Banarsi sarees. But here too things have changed for worse like elsewhere. Not a day passes without the newspapers carrying reports of suicides, starvation deaths or spread of chronic diseases among the weavers. Conditions in some pockets have turned so miserable that in September this year, a weaver’s family sold its six-month old baby for Rs. 1000. Reports of weavers selling blood evoked widespread concern in the state. But a minister in the ruling Samajwadi Party government could do no better than come up with this appalling comment: these weavers are drug addicts and they are selling blood only to buy heroin! He later backtracked when questioned as to what was leading a large number of weavers to drugs. Incidentally, in the last Lok Sabha elections, the Congress candidate won the Varanasi seat because of large-scale weavers’ support to his pre-election promise of alleviating their hardship. However, things have not improved and the recent incidents have greatly eroded the faith that the weavers have reposed in the Congress.
After agriculture, weaving is the lifeline of the eastern part of U.P. According to an estimate, there are about 4-5 lakh weavers in Varanasi district who run about 2 lakh handlooms and 75,000 power looms. The weaving trade has broadly a three-tier structure: the weaver (skilled labour), who works either on his own loom or the loom of the master weaver; the master weaver or Grehastha (MW), who supplies the raw material and design to the weaver and pays the latter’s wages; and the trader, who buys the sarees from the master weaver and sells them in the market. Traditionally, the leadership of the weavers’ movement has been in the hands of the master weaver and the trader.
In the last couple of decades, the handloom weavers were provided government assistance thorough co-operative societies, which provided them raw material and procured their finished product that was sold to government agencies. Gradually the government assistance dried up and state handloom houses are on the verge of closure.
The advent of power loom challenged the domination of the handloom weavers, and today, practically all the designs of handloom are copied on the power loom. The cheaper nylon sarees produced by the power loom expanded the reach of the Banarsi sarees. But now the heydays of the powerloom sector in Varanasi seem to be over. Stiff competition from sarees produced in Surat (Gujarat) has offset the initial advantage enjoyed by sarees produced in Varanasi. Off late, cheaper imports from China and Korea have further aggravated the crisis. The cumulative effect of the above factors has led to closure of many looms leading to large-scale unemployment.
To address the issues of weavers, Party had launched Bunkar Mahasabha, a weavers’ organization, in Varanasi about 3 years ago. The basic objective of this organization was to bring the skilled labourer to the forefront in order to establish working class leadership in the weavers’ movement. Last year it played an active role in the nationwide weavers’ movement against excise duty imposed by the Central Govt. In a recently held convention in Varanasi, attended by 400 weavers, Bunkar Mahasabha adopted the following resolutions-
Death of a weaver from starvation would be considered as a criminal offence and the onus would lie with the government. The social security of the weavers should be guaranteed by the state and central governments. The government should immediately issue BPL ration cards to the poor weavers so as to save them from starvation.
A special ‘Weavers Assistance Package’ should be announced to provide cheap raw material and electricity to the weaver. The govt. should waive all the loans of weavers and guarantee purchase of their product. Special measures should be initiated to introduce latest technology among the weavers to enable them to compete globally.
To protect the indigenous weaving industry, anti-dumping duty should be imposed on foreign cloth until the domestic weaving industry becomes capable of facing the global challenge.
Sudarshan Kurmi of Dandapur village in Mardah block died of hunger on Sep 14. A CPI(ML) investigation team reported from the spot that the deceased had not eaten anything for last three days and he died empty stomach after a day's hard labour in scorching sun. But the district administration refused to accept that he died of starvation and, after ‘enquiry’, declared illness as the reasons of his death. Officials who visited the village did not even meet the deceased's family. Instead, they suggested to some influential people to collect chanda (contribution) for funeral rites, of course without postmortem.
Opposing this callousness and demanding a judicial inquiry with immediate suspension of the DM of Ghazipur, CPI(ML) State Committee member Ishwai Prasad sat on a two-day protest dharna. He demanded compensation to the deceased’s family and free distribution of food to the starving poor in the area.
Ten years back Sudarshan Kurmi was a Jute Mill worker in Kolkata. The axe of liberalisation fell on his mill and since then, as an unemployed he returned his village. Here too the same 'economic reforms' had brought a severe agrarian crisis, which was compounded with the drought and government’s criminal negligence. He was not given even a BPL ration card. Spectre of globalisation haunted him everywhere and left no escape-route from this sad and untimely end. The team learned that a number of people in villages and towns of Eastern UP are awaiting a similar fate with no jobs and nothing to eat. This is the ground situation, but the government is criminally callous in tackling it.
The recent starvation death reported from the Kraska village of district Alwar reflected the sorry plight of lakhs of poor villagers who have been left to starve without any means of livelihood after their fertile lands, which they were tilling for generations, were taken away forcibly by the government nearly a decade ago for the Sariska sanctuary project. Once flourishing, now the peasants are left to survive on occasional jobs on a meagre wage of Rs. 20-25 per day. And this year's drought has brought them to the brink of starvation due to complete absence of job.
A CPI(ML) team comprising PB member and vice president of AIALA Swadesh Bhattacharya, Party's Haryana incharge and Co-convener of AIKSS Prem Singh Gahlawat, Rajasthan Khet Mazdoor Sabha leader Phoolchand Dhewa along with comrades Om Prakash and Jitendra Prasad conducted an inquiry on October 1-2 into the recent incident of starvation death in district Alwar of Rajasthan.
The team found that the village Kraska was nothing less than the ‘death-well’. Villagers live in mud houses without electricity or potable water and have to walk two hours on a hilly tract to reach a town.
Reports of starvation deaths are there in other districts as well, and almost whole of the state is suffering from drought. But situation in Kraska is really severe. The team demanded immediate suspension of DM of Alwar for his criminal negligence. The affected people must be provided food and employment; and their lands be restored to them. Besides civic amenities like electricity, water, health, education, old-age pension, a comprehensive development package be introduced. The government cannot shun its responsibility by raking up an absurd debate whether people were dying of starvation or malnutrition induced illness.
Satar village in Deoghar is only 7 km from the town. Inahabited by 300 families, it has road and electricity, school and primary health center. With all these symbols of 'development', very recently this village has witnessed starvation deaths. Barring a small privileged section, majority of the villagers have reached to the brink of starvation. This was the third consecutive year of drought and they have no employment. Most of them are agricultural labourers and fishermen living below poverty line. Occasionally they get some daily wage job in the town.
Dukhni's of dalit tola was the first to die of starvation on Sep 22. It caused no change in government’s apathetic attitude. Shortly after, on 2 October, when the nation was celebrating Gandhi’s birthday, Panwa Devi met the same fate. This caused some district officials to rush to the village to arrange for cremation without postmortem.
A CPI(ML) investigation team found that many people like Anchhi Devi, Jaishankar Raut and Bonga Kapri are suffering from severe malnutrition and food and medical facilities are out of their reach. The few who got work under the forest department have not been paid wages after a month.
CPI(ML) team found that amenities to the poor like red cards, old-age pension, Antyoday Yojna, Annapoorna Yojna, Indira Awas Yojna have been implemented for namesake. The team demanded for providing food, medicines and proper treatment to the affected poor people and start the Food for Work programme in the village clearing all the wages unpaid. As other parts of the district are facing the imminent danger of famine, Party demanded to start relief work soon. The government must take the responsibility of each starvation death and remove the DM of concerned district in case of any such event.
Drought for the third consecutive year in Palamu region of Jharkhand has aggravated the situation where lakhs of people are starving and thousands are reeling under severe malnutrition and subsequent ailments. Death toll is mounting and unemployment is compelling large-scale migration. While the BJP govt. is blaming the center for non-cooperation, Congress is staging food distribution drama. And RJD, which continually overlooked the famine situation in Palamu region for 11 years it was in power in undivided Bihar, is now shedding crocodile tears. In reality, leaders of all these parties are still busy in misappropriating development funds and looting public money, even the meagre relief funds and other materials are not spared. While the toiling masses continue to starve in far interior areas, BJP government has refused to accept that the cause of these deaths is starvation.
Highly enraged at this attitude, people under CPI(ML) leadership started protesting government's inaction over famine and epidemics. On 1 September and again on 6th, hundreds marched to Barwadih block office to demand that the region be declared as famine hit. Again on September 13, hundreds protested against corruption in Indira Awas and red card distribution and the next day a successful bandh was called to protest bungling in red card distribution by the nexus of corrupt officials, criminals and middlemen. A protest demonstration was held on 18 Sep against the Tiger Project, which is causing damage to crops affecting many poor peasants in the area. Besides, villagers in the adjoining Mahuatand block staged dharna to protest against deaths due to diarrhoea, and demanded steps against epidemic and famine.
Party launched a movement against famine and starvation in Garhwa district. During a week-long campaign, nearly 7000 people participated in protests at Garhwa, Meral, Ramuna, Dhurki, Nagar Utari, Bhavnathpur, Kharaundhi and Bhandaria blocks and forced the administration to take some steps for distribution of food to the poor. This anti-famine campaign also exposed many corruption cases in the district. The first phase ended with a district level rally on 22 September with the participation of more than 4000 people.
In Palamu-Garhwa region, more than 14 people have died of starvation in the recent days. In spite of exposure of their lie in the media, the administration continues to parrot that the cause of deaths was illness. Led by CPI(ML), the people organised bandhs in Patan and Lesliganj to lodge their anger and protest. A Mazdoor-Kisan Panchayat was held at district level on 20 September participated in by 5000 people. It sent a clear message that if adequate relief was not ensured, employment generation measures not taken up and black-marketing and loot of developmental funds not stopped, the movement will intensify and the people will punish the culprits themselves.
Instead of addressing the problem, the state administration is trying to stop the people’s march by fabricating false cases against CPI(ML) activists and leaders. Come what may, the Party is determined to carry forward the people's cause and resist every repressive move. The Party demands that criminal cases be lodged against the Chief Minister for starvation deaths and government's criminal negligence.