Aadhaar-linked PDS: Jharkhand girl's death has become a shameful theatre of blame-games

Those saying it had nothing to do with the family’s non-UID linked ration card being cut off from the PDS are deluded.

 |  6-minute read |   18-10-2017
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As India prepares to celebrate Diwali, despite the slim business and fervour owing to rash government decisions, the festival of lights will be in stark contrast with the gloom and doom of a family that has just lost its child to chronic hunger. Santoshi Kumari, just 11-year-old when she died last month in Simdega, Jharkhand, breathed her last saying “bhat, bhat (rice, rice)", and her mother Koyli Devi has been interviewed by a number of media organisations lamenting that unforgivable fact.

Earlier, we had noted how this denying of food and ration because the ration cards weren’t connected to Aadhaar was a gross violation of the Right to Life, Food Security Act and Aadhaar’s own “voluntary” nature by law, and the Supreme Court guidelines on the PDS-UID link, goes without saying. However, what’s even more tragic is that this could be foreseen by civil rights activists and commentators, reporting on the “Aadhaar exclusions” months in advance.

However, instead of remorse and course correction on the part of the concerned authorities, what we are witnessing is a shameful theatre of absurd blame-game, finger-pointing and denying that starvation because of cut-off rations had anything to do with Santoshi’s death.

Yesterday, October 17, BJP IT Cell head Amit Malviya tweets out an official [“DC”] report that claims the girl died of malaria, and not because the family was denied ration.

Today, Malviya has tweeted a clip of Jaymuni Devi, an elder relative of the deceased Santoshi, claiming that the girl child didn’t die of hunger but because she was sick with malaria, as claimed by the Jharkhand officials.

However, only yesterday, several reports were published that quoted Koyli Devi, the mother of the deceased girl, who said that her daughter died begging for some rice. “Went to get rice, but I was told that no ration will be given to me. My daughter died saying 'Bhat, bhat (rice)',” she said, and news outlets noted this claim in their tweets.  

And BBC Hindi had a powerful political cartoon on the shameful incident.

Moreover, there seemed to be some (intentional or not) miscommunication from the Jharkhand state government, with Saryu Roy, the minister in charge of food and civil supplies claiming that “clear instructions that ration shouldn’t be denied to those who haven’t linked ration card to Aadhaar”.

This flies in the face of the official Jharkhand state government memo delinking non-Aadhaar linked ration cards from the PDS, as made available by activists who have been meticulously documenting the Aadhaar-driven exclusions.

Jharkhand is no stranger to Aadhaar-driven exclusions that civil rights activists have been noting the increasing gap in PDS and welfare delivery in state for over a year now.

This clearly belies many of the claims of innocence and non-complicity made by the Jharkhand government of CM Raghubar Das, who has now ordered a probe into the matter. In fact, Union minister of food and agriculture, Ram Vilas Paswan, has said that a central team would investigate the death of Santoshi.

As the Centre is hell bent on linking Aadhaar to almost every service, public and private, in India, the gross violations of fundamental rights, and the resultant exclusions have been documented meticulously. In states like Jharkhand and Rajasthan, the poor have been left out of the Aadhaar-driven PDS because of “authentication failures”.

Civil rights activists Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey have repeatedly drawn our attention to the hard facts on the ground – how the poor and the vulnerable are denied rations, work, services, skills training, even pregnancy care because they lack Aadhaar.

paltry sum of Rs 50,000 has been announced as assistance to Santoshi’s family, even as bureaucrats and ministers engage in this macabre game of finger-pointing over a dead child. What they are unwilling to admit is that the technocratic push for Aadhaar has led to gross exclusions, exactly why India has sunk three points in the global hunger index in one year.

Only the self-deluding lot would say that there’s no correlation between the GHI and Aadhaar-driven tendency to declare the “un-authenticated” as “ghosts/frauds”.

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