Delhi Starvation Deaths of 3 Young Siblings Expose Apathy Towards Right to Food

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Three minor sisters starved to death in New Delhi

Ghazanfar Abbas | Caravan Daily

NEW DELHI: The shocking starvation deaths of three sisters, all under the age of 10 years, that too in the National Capital, have exposed the poor implementation of Right to Food – a fundamental right guaranteed in the Constitution of India. The autopsy found no trace of food in their stomach, indicating they had not eaten for past several days.

The girls namely Mansi, 8, Paro, 5, and Sukho, 2 died due to “malnourishment / starvation and its complications”, said the initial postmortem report. The autopsy found stomach of the girls absolutely empty and no trace of fat on their bodies.

“There was no sign of food. When the bodies were opened, stomach, bladder and rectum were all found empty. Seems the children did not have food for last 8-10 days,” Dr Amita Saxena, medical superintendent of LBS hospital told NDTV.

Three doctors from GTB hospital had conducted the second post-mortem that confirmed that the girls died due to starvation and they were also suffering from malnutrition.

The horrific incident has exposed as to how the governments’ policies are hostile when it comes to implement Right to Food for those who need it most. It also shows a relation between illiteracy, unemployment, women’s health, starvation and malnutrition among children due to which India is ranked 100th in the list of 119 countries in the latest global hunger index report by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

No Ration Card, No Food

The family of the girls had moved to a one-room accommodation in East Delhi’s Mandawali on Saturday (21st July) from a nearby slum area. That they were living on the borrowed food for some days defines the miserable situation of the family. Due to not having permanent address, the family was also deprived of a ration card necessary to get a small monthly stock of grains on subsidised rate.

According to neighbours, the two younger sisters were suffering from vomiting and diarrhea and their health was seriously deteriorating for a few days.

Beena, the mother of the girls who along with a family friend brought her children to a local hospital, asked them to feed her first before she could explain what happened. She is suffering from mental disorders and keeps forgetting things.

“The girls’ mother is mentally unsound and could not able to tell the police what exactly happened to her daughters,” a police official said to media.

Mangal, father of the girls, used to pull a rented rickshaw but he became jobless because his rickshaw was stolen a few days ago. After dropping his family at the new accommodation, he left in search of new job but did not return after even after the tragedy.

Beena told police that her husband seldom looked after the family and used to go missing for days.

Mangal came to Delhi from Midnapur in West Bengal for job some 15 years back and got married to Beena ten years ago.  Much of his earnings spent on alcohol, locals alleged.

India in Malnutrition and Global Hunger Index

Sadly, as per various reports including that from World Bank, India Spend, Assocham-EY, India is home to the largest number of malnourished children in the world. Moreover, deaths due to malnutrition have become a grim reality even in the national capital despite the state’s per capita income of Rs 3.29 lakh being the second highest in the country and nearly three times of the national average.

The World Bank estimates that India has more malnourished children than sub-Saharan Africa and nearly one of every five malnourished children in the world is from India where 50% children under 5 died due to malnutrition, suggesting the country needs “to frame policies with a focus on reducing health and social inequities”.

The global hunger index report by IFPRI stated: “India is ranked 100th out of 119 countries, and has the third highest score in all of Asia — only Afghanistan and Pakistan are ranked worse. At 31.4, India’s 2017 GHI (Global Hunger Index) score is at the high end of the ‘serious’ category, and is one of the main factors pushing South Asia to the category of worst performing region on the GHI this year, followed closely by Africa South of the Sahara”.

Right To Food, Fundamental Right & Politics

The Delhi starvation deaths echoed loudly inside and outside the Parliament. Both state and central governments led by AAP and BJP respectively have ordered a probe into the deaths.

Besides ordering a magisterial inquiry into the deaths, Manish Sisodia, Deputy Chief Minister of Delhi has ordered to dispense an amount of Rs 25000/- for family’s immediate needs from its disaster management relief.

Ram Vilas Paswan, Cabinet Minister of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution said, “We have ordered an enquiry into the matter”.

The AAP government has been alleging that the Lieutenant Governor, a Centre’s appointee, is not allowing the state government’s proposed scheme for doorstep delivery of ration, which would have averted such tragedy.

Meanwhile taking cognizance of the incident, the NHRC (National Human Rights Commission) on Thursday issued notices to the Centre and Delhi government seeking a report on the matter within two to four weeks.

The right to food is a part of fundamental rights and directives principles of the Indian Constitution. In Chameli Singh vs State of UP (1996), a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court had held as follows: “In any organised society, right to live as a human being is not ensured by meeting only the animal needs of man… Right to live guaranteed in any civilised society implies the right to food, water, decent environment education, medical care and shelter. These are basic human rights known to any civilised society,” quotes LiveLaw.in.

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