Debating India


Desperate times

Friday 12 March 2004, by CHATTOPADHYAY*Suhrid Sankar

JHARPOTA MUNDA village under the Juba gram panchayat in Bolangir district of Orissa stands out as a stark example of desperate times: with over 60 per cent of its younger residents migrating in search of work, the old and infirm are left to fend for themselves.

in Bolangir

Ghasi Banchar, 80, whose sons, along with their families, left the village a year ago, has no cultivable land to depend on, nor is he physically fit to earn a living. "I get nothing from the government. I have not eaten properly for days, and I am totally dependent on charity", Ghasi told Frontline. Three times he appealed to the village sarpanch to extend gratuitous relief. On January 28, he approached the Block Development Officer (BDO). But as of February 20, no help had come for him.

Jaydev Podh, 75, like Ghasi, depends on dole, more so because his vision is impaired. On December 23 last year, an eye camp was organised at Dhumabota, 7 km from the village. "I walked to the village early every morning for three days and came back late at night. But the doctor never turned up," he said.

For Keshav Bindhani, 70, the situation is slightly different but no less hard. Three and a half years ago his son Tikke died. "His wife and five children have become my responsibility. I have no fixed income, and it is difficult to make ends meet". he says. Keshab has neither a house nor agricultural land. Three years ago he applied for assistance under the National Family Benefit Scheme, under which on the expiry of an earning member, a family living below the poverty line is eligible for a compensation of Rs.10,000. Keshab’s daughter-in-law is yet to receive the benefit. Like most other children in the village, his youngest grandchild, who is four years old, is suffering from acute malnutrition. Jatin Kumar Patra, secretary of Adhikar, a non-governmental organisation that works in the village, told Frontline: "We have directly appealed to the administration to extend help to at least four people here who are on the verge of starvation, but nothing has been done so far."

* * *

A few hundred metres away from Jharpota Munda is a cluster of huts belonging to the "untouchables". The doors of most of the huts have been sealed with bricks - denoting that the owners have migrated. The elderly people who have been left behind guard the huts of their children. Panu Nag, 70, is one such unfortunate father. He is almost blind and too weak to work. He gets Rs.100 a month as old-age pension, but that is not enough to sustain him and his wife, and most of the time he resorts to begging. "We have nothing. Even if my three sons come back, how will they be able to support us when they can barely support themselves?" he asks. Being untouchables, these people were not allowed to use the water from the village well. They had to trek one kilometre every day to get water. It was only in 2001 that at the insistence of Adhikar, a well was dug near their colony.

See online : Frontline


in Frontline, volume 21 - Issue 05, February 28 - March 12, 2004.

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