Decades after Naxalbari, hunger still haunts north Bengal: Binayak Sen
Four decades after the Naxalbari movement, a large section of the population of north West Bengal where the peasant uprising took place, continues to fall victim to chronic hunger and malnutrition deaths, civil rights activist Binayak Sen claimed here Friday.
Speaking at the launch of "The First Naxal", a biography of 1967 Naxalbari uprising spearhead Kanu Sanyal, Sen blamed the "resource mobilisation in favour of corporates" for the starvation deaths that have plagued a number of closed tea estates in north Bengal.
Sen said a human rights team comprising members of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), the Forum For People's Health and Jalpaiguri Welfare Organisation during a survey found that over 60 percent of workers had a Body Mass Index (BMI) of less than 18.5 which is emblematic of chronic hunger.
According to WHO, if 40 percent of the adults have a BMI of below 18.5, then that community should be considered a community in famine, said Sen, the national vice president of PUCL and general secretary of its Chhattisgarh unit.
"Since the West Bengal government didn't accept the deaths are due to starvation, we went and saw how many people in the community are going through a situation of starvation. What we could infer by talking to people there is that the deaths were due to starvation," said Sen.
"Based on the power of the state, there is large scale resource mobilisation in favour of the corporates and common people are being denied. This is a dangerous situation. This will result in large scale deaths and people will have to resist this process for their own survival," he observed.
Sen even claimed that starvation deaths were instrumental in Sanyal committing suicide in 2010.
"We still have situation where large number of people are suffering from chronic hunger and dying from malnutrition - this is the measure of the situation which prompted comrade Kanu Sanyal to commit suicide," he alleged.
Sen also said the Rs.95 paid to the tea estate workers was" shameful and unacceptable" and is even less than half of the standard minimum wages.
"We are going into a situation where people are being forced to resist to ensure the survival of their communities," he said.
While NGOs and civil right activists have been claiming a large number of starvation deaths have taken place in the closed tea estates, the Mamata Banerjee led Trinamool Congress government in the state has been denying the existence of any such deaths.
Earlier in the month, the National Human Rights Commission sent a notice to the Banerjee government taking suo motu cognisance of a media report that nearly 1,000 people have died due to malnutrition in three closed tea gardens in Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar districts.
(Posted on 22-08-2014)