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Bengal: A Tale of Two Destitute Mothers of Jangal Mahal

It’s an endless saga of struggle for these two women, who have no place to stay, can’t afford a single square meal for their children, don’t have Aadhar, and no income.
Bengal: A Tale of Two Destitute Mothers of Jangal Mahal

Shibani Shing with her seven children at Tantigeriya area in Medinipur town. | Images by Madhu Sudan Chatterjee

In a heart-wrenching tale of human misery in the face of extreme scarcity of food, a destitute mother near West Bengal’s Jangal Mahal district reportedly sold her 10-day-old newborn girl. The incident, reported in local media, took place in the Fulpahari area adjacent to Jangal Mahal in Medinipur town, located 130 kilometers from Kolkata.

Almost simultaneously, on the other side of Jangal Mahal in Bankura, at Dhaban village under Kalpathar gram panchayat of Bankura block 1, another woman has been living with her six children under the open sky in the deep forest. She, too, allegedly tried to sell her 10-month-old son. A local youth reportedly intervened and stopped her. Now, she wishes to live with her children, but the question remains: how?

The woman says she cannot arrange even one meal a day. The mother and her six children are suffering from extreme malnutrition, claimed local reports.

Why did Medinipur’s Mother ‘sell’ her Newborn?

Shibani Shing, 40, a mother of seven children, used to spend her days in the open field under a tent in the Fulpahari area of Kankaboti gram panchayat under Medinipur Sadar Block. Her husband, Amar Das, is a construction worker with no fixed income. Three months ago, before giving birth again, she started living in an 8/10 feet rented hut with her children and husband. One dish was far from enough for feeding nine people, as the family could not arrange for even one meal a day. In this dire situation, Shibani reportedly tried to sell her 10-day-old daughter, hoping that by doing so, the rest of the family could have two meals for a few days. The incident came to light on February 4, according to local sources.

On January 17, Shibani gave birth to a girl. “As an Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHA) worker, I admitted her to Medinipur hospital on that day. She returned after three days with her baby," Mamoni Chalok, an ASHA worker in the Fulpahari area, told this writer.

She said every day she visited the area but could not hear the newborn cry, nor did she see her since January 27. When asked, Shibani claimed she had left her baby with a relative. Can a 10-day-old child be deprived of mother’s milk like this, the ASHA worker thought.

That is when Chalok said she informed the local Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) worker Mousumi Dutta, whose husband Goutam Dutta is the block president of Trinamool Congress (TMC) of Medinipur Sadar Block, and local panchayat member Dipali Ray, who also belongs to the ruling TMC. Unfortunately, no action was taken by the administration.

After the issue came to light on February 4, the district administration was shaken. After an investigation, on the same day, along with a police force, the District Child Protection Department officers rescued the newborn from Godamouli village under Shalboni police station in Pashchim Medinipur District at 9 p.m.

This child was sold to an individual, claimed government officials. The Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH) Pashchim Medinipur district, Dr. Soumyo Shankar Sorangi, told local reporters that no one could give a child to anyone in this manner, as there are specific rules and laws that govern the legal process of giving a child to someone. If those are not followed, it is illegal.

On February 4, Shibani told reporters that her husband Amar Das had no fixed income. After her fourth child, she went for a birth control operation (ligation) at De Para health centre in Medinipur. She said does not have an Aadhar card and was taken to the operation table and asked for Rs 5,000. How could she afford that amount? She said she escaped from the hospital. She said her husband being a construction worker lacked an identity card and, therefore, was not receiving benefits from the government.

Shibani said in January of this year, local TMC leaders took her husband to a labour fair in Kharagpur, but he received nothing “except two packets of tiffin”. The angry woman claimed since they have no permanent place to stay, she gave her newborn baby to an acquaintance of her husband. She reiterated that if anyone wished to look after and keep the child alive, she would willingly give away the rest of her sons and daughters, as living with them would result in their gradual demise due to lack of food.

Kempa Honnaiah, Additional District Magistrate (Development) of Paschim Medinipur, informed newspersons that the couple’s four daughters, including the newborn, had been placed in Keshiari, and one son in the Pingla government home.

Shibani’s Aadhar, voter card, and Lakshmi Bhandar allowance have been duly registered. Furthermore, the district administration had provided new clothes to all seven children, including the couple, on February 6. Now, their one son and daughter, who are under 5 years old, could stay with their parents.

The looming question, however, is where will they stay? The owner of the house in the Fulpahari area, where they lived, has given it away on rent. They do not have specific work. According to local sources, Shibani and her husband have been venturing out for work with their children in different places, but no one knows where they are finding work or staying.

Chumki Malakar, a Mother’s Struggle in Bankura

Living with her six children in a roadside shack in Asansol, Pashchim Bardhaman District, Chumki's husband, Nimai Malakar, used to work as an occasional labourer. Four months ago, he left his wife with six children, rendering her destitute.

Bengal: A Tale of Two Destitute Mothers of Jangal Mahal

Chumki with her children now lives at Shiyarbedia village.

“What should I do? My children were hungry, and to fulfil their stomachs, I used to beg on the roadside. I could not bear it anymore. In this dire situation, I took trains and buses from Asansol, Durgapur, with my six children and started living in this remote forest area of Bankura," 35-year-old Chumki Malakar, told this writer.

She said they had nothing to eat for two days. "We walked a long way, and the children were panting with hunger pangs. I had nothing to feed them. We had no warm clothes or blankets. While walking to find shelter, I chose this place in the middle of the forest," recounted the destitute mother.

Three months ago, they started living in Dhaboni village of Kalpathar gram panchayat under Bankura block 1, which is 12km away from Bankura town. They spent their days in the winter season under the open sky. Chumki said she used to beg for food from village to village, and whatever she got, she would boil and try to half-fill seven stomachs.

A fortnight ago, a local youth, Dayamoy Mondal, noticed them in the forest. He approached them with some food, clothing and blankets. A week ago, through the initiative of Mondal, Chumki and her six children were brought to the nearby Shiyarbedia gram under Aadharthol grampanchayat. Here, six families live on a deserted land at Shiyarbedia village, with only two of them having huts, while the rest live under the open sky.

Chumki said it was a little better coming here and being able to talk to some people. However, she said she still had to stay with her children under the open sky, enduring winter and untimely rain. Every morning, she roams around the area begging. She does not have an Aadhar or voter card and is unaware of the Lakshmi Bhandar scheme.

Local residents, Chinibus, Putul, Sarbeswar, Kousik Malakar, who live with their families, also told this writer that they had no work. After searching for work all day, most days, they do not even get any petty work. They have taken shelter in two dilapidated huts. Not a single child of theirs goes to school, and they spend their days half-fed.

After visiting Shiyarbediya village, this writer observed that Chumki Malakar’s elder son, Ram (8 years), with his younger brothers Mithun, Bangali, Raj, and sister Lakshmi were collecting jungle kul (a kind of fruit). Ram said they don't get to eat rice every day, and have to satisfy their hunger by eating these jungle fruits.

Chumki's youngest son, 10 months old, is suffering from acute skin disease. She said she went to Bankura Sammilany Medical College and hospital for his treatment, where the doctor advised her to buy medicine costing over Rs 400. "From where will I get so much money? I cannot arrange even one full meal a day, and my sons and daughter are suffering from extreme malnutrition. I want to live with my children. I want my children to receive education, have a permanent shelter. I cannot bear the pain of passing days like this," said a tearful Chumki.

A few days ago, when the matter was flagged to Rituparna Chatterjee, the Block Development Officer (BDO) of Bankura 1, she said she would discuss with the local panchayat and take necessary measures. However, no action has yet been taken at either the administration or panchayat level, said local sources.

No one from the authority concerned has visited the Shiyarbedia spot. Meanwhile, Chumki and her six children continue to survive under the open sky, half-fed. The question remains: how long will this last? They are literally on the brink of falling into a death trap.

The writer covers the Jangal Mahal region for ‘Ganashakti’ newspaper in West Bengal.

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