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Weaver's family gets govt help only after hunger consumes four lives
Hunger and malnutrition have once again struck the Hindu holy town of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. This time the victims were two innocent children of a weaver family of Bazardiha, a Muslim dominated area in Varanasi district.

Mohammad Murtaza, a three-year-old boy died on the midnight of 9th May, 2013 due to severe malnourishment and the next day at around 10am, his 14-year-old elder sister Shamina Parveen breathed her last while fighting hunger.

The family has already lost their father Abdul Khaliq, a poor weaver ten months back who met with the same fate and died of starvation caused by severe economic hardships. Before the sad demise of Abdul Khaliq, his daughter, seven-year-old Shaba Parveen had already died due to severe malnutrition.

Bazardiha is a Muslim dominated area and has a population of over one lakh Muslims. The area is located close to the world renowned university in Varanasi known as Kashi Hindu University. The residential areas in and around Bazardiha are relatively better off in terms of basic resources. But unfortunately, there are also areas in Bazardiha which lack all basic human amenities.

There are no proper accessible roads and almost a dysfunctional sanitation system. Sewerage lines are clogged and piles of garbage can be seen around. In addition, they lack supply of proper drinking water. As a result of that the region is facing a severe health and educational crisis. This area has only one Public Health Care Centre which remains open from morning 8am to 12am. This centre hardly caters to the needs of health of children and women of this area.

This is despite the fact that 17 Aaganwadi Centers are operating to look after the health needs of children and women. But the local residents have not been made aware about the facilities being provided by these Aaganwadi Centers. No one in the area knows where they are located and what services they offer to the needy?

As a result, these centers are run at their own free will by the Aaganwadi workers. Majority of the Aganwadi Centers are dependent on the assistants appointed to run them but they seldom come for their duties. There is only one primary school for the children in the area. Parents do not prefer to send their children to this school because the school does not have an Urdu language teacher.

There is only one Hansia Gosia Madrasa which is aided by the government. Those families, who can afford higher fees, send their children to other private Madrasas. Children of poor families are forced to work for 8 to 10 hours as Sari weavers. Families struck by poverty are compelled to take loans to fulfill their essential needs and to repay the loans; even children have to toil hard for the repayment.

Abdul Khaliq was a master in the art of weaving the famous Banarasi Sari. He was living with his family in a rented house in Jakhwa Uncha mohalla in the same Bazardiha region. Abdul Khaliq had a family of six members including his wife Nazra Khatoon (35 years) with daughters;  eldest one Nasira Parveen, age 18 years, Nazia Parveen age 16 years, Shamina Parveen age 14 years, Shahina Parveen age 12 years, Shaba Parveen age 7 years and the only son Mohammad Murtaza age 3.5 years.

Two years back, Shaba Parveen was the first daughter who died. After that Abdul Khaliq died 10 months back and now on 9th May, 2013 around 2am in the night Mohammad Murtaza had his last breath and the very next day morning around 10am, 14-year-old Shahina Parveen died due to insufficient food.

Abdul Khaliq barely managed to earn 40 to 50 rupees after putting his hard labour in weaving work. His wife Nazra Khatoon and eldest daughter Nasira Khatoon used to earn a little bit by doing aari and sari cutting work. It was a period of economic decline but somehow the family managed to survive. But after the death of Abdul Khaliq, the sole bread winner of the family, the hopes of the whole family were broken.

The family once had an above poverty line status and never got any benefits of any government scheme. The family neither had a weaver identity card nor had the health insurance card under the Lombard Scheme being run for the health of the weaving community. Young children of the family were not associated with the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS).

Even after the untimely death of the sole family bread winner, Nazra Khatoon, widow of the deceased did not get any help from National Family Help scheme. She even did not receive any benefit under the widow pension scheme.

After the death of her husband and three children within a span of two years, Nazara Khatoon’s world is totally broken and she is left with no physical and mental strength to be able to speak to anyone about it. Her eldest daughter Nasira Parveen, who is married now, narrated her story to us, “Our family is very poor. My father used to work hard and was able to earn 40 to 50 rupees and sometimes 100 rupees. Till I was not married, I and my mother used to do sari cutting and other artisan work and we were able to earn 10 to 20 rupees. But after my marriage and death of my father 10 months back, the conditions in the family further deteriorated. We never had a chance to eat full meal with such a meager earning.”

“If we eat in day time, we could not eat during the night and if we ate in the night then we never had food in day time. I do not remember a time when our family had a full proper meal. My father, my two sisters and my only brother, all died due to insufficient food and acute hunger. When we do not eat, we will naturally be weak and sick. If there is no food in the stomach, how is the medicine going to affect? My father often used to fall sick and he was not able to earn enough. When my father was alive, many people told us to get below poverty line card (Antyodaya Card) and health insurance card for medical treatment, we went to many places for that but no one came to help us.”

“As a result he could not get his card and he did get any help from the government. We do not have our own house. We live in a rented house for which we have to pay 600 rupees as rent. We have not been able to pay the rent for the last six months. Here we neither have Aaganwadi facilities for the young children nor do we have any medical facilities. My mother does the work of making mattresses by taking old clothes in the neighborhood localities. She gets 50 to 100 rupees by making the mattresses. It takes 4 to 5 days to prepare the mattress. We know artisan work but after the death of my father it is very difficult to get work from outside.”

“Whatever little work we got, my mother and sisters were managing their lives with that. This had gradually put a negative impact on their health and their bodies began to deteriorate slowly. They became weak and often started falling sick. Because of physical weakness, they found it difficult to work properly. My brother Murtaza and sister Shamina Parveen had been sick for the last many days. Their intestines were getting dried up due to insufficient food, they had lost all their body flesh and they were looking as if their skeletons had been covered with layers of skin. If we were not able to earn anything any day, we used to look for others to give us something to eat.”

“Mother Nazra got my sick brother admitted to Kaudia Hospital (Ram Krishna Mission Trust Hospital) for treatment but he was not given proper treatment there. In the hospital, the family was not treated well and they did not give any advice for the treatment. We were referred to go to BHU for treatment but we did not have money to go there so we came back to our house.  Whatever little money we could arrange from others, we had spent in this period. We were in no position to ask further monetary help. Moreover, our neighbours were not rich enough to help us all the time as they had to run their families with their little earnings.”

After the painful deaths of two children in the family, the SDM reached the spot only after 4pm in the evening to assess the situation. In the morning regional officer of the Epidemic Cell, Mr. Gulam Shabbir visited the house and gave some medicines for the prevention of infection from water, stomach pain and some chlorine tablets.

While one member of the family, Nazia Parveen had high fever at that time but they did not consider it important to give medicine to get relief.  When the regional officer was contacted on phone by a member of PVCHR in this regard, he replied that while coming from CMO’s office, he would deliver the medicines. After 2 pm in the afternoon, the social activists of PVCHR took Nazia to a private hospital nearby for the treatment where on the advice of the doctor, X-Ray and blood tests of Nazia were done. Nazia had been complaining of high fever and cough. On the basis of doctor’s prescription Nazia was given paracetamol, anti-biotic and energy related medicines.

Despite the existence of various governmental schemes to help the poor, the district administration acted so late. By 14th of May, widow of Abdul Khaliq, Nazra Khatoon was provided a BPL card (Antyodaya ration card), Weaver Card, House under Kashi Ram Aawas scheme, one quintal wheat, one quintal of rice and 25 liters of Kerosine. The tragedy is that Nazia Khatoon got all this when she had already lost her husband and three children forever.

The tragic incident of hunger deaths in Bazardiha is a sad reminder of the prevailing harsh economic realities of a region and therefore the case of Abdul Khaliq’s family should not be taken as an isolated development, there are hundreds of families which are forced to live under similar poor economic conditions. This region urgently requires special development programmes targeting poverty to be launched jointly by the central and state government. Comprehensive efforts should be made to empower those reeling under abject poverty especially the weaving community in this region.

This would not only provide an opportunity for the weaving community to live with dignity but it would also honour in real sense their hard work and artistic abilities which created and kept alive the fame of Banarasi Sari all over the world.

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