This is a story of the discriminated of the discriminated against in drought-hit Palamu district in Jharkhand. On Wednesday evening, its deputy commissioner Amitabh Kaushal saw his car blocked by about a dozen poor and famished women, who lined the road at a village called Katuwal in Chainpur block, which sits about 25 km from here.
Barely did his driver press the ignition button, the district commissioner heard a chorus of screams punctuated with anger and anguish: "We are all daily-wage labourers, starved, virtually everyday; but we don't get free ration. Can't you do anything about it." The deputy commissioner kept quiet.
"We don't get free rice because none of us has a BPL free ration card. So what? Aren't we poor? Don't we feel hungry. Don't we deserve government aid?," asked Radha Bhuiyn, a 60-year-old woman.
"The government gives free ration to BPL card holders and those who belong to the Antodaya category. People without BPL cards aren't entitled," a food supply official sought to reason.
But the women seem uninterested in the rules and logic of the officialdom. "Is it only a BPL card holder who feels hungry?" was Radha's counterpoint. "We've equal rights over government aid, because we, too, feel hungry. Don't we? Sir, you must do something to end this discrimination," she sought to explain.
Her logic and pent-up anger, put forth in a rustic manner though, was loud and clear. "You must do something to make sure we survive," said another in the protesting group.
While the DC stayed put in the car, it was the accompanying officials, particularly SDO Ravindra Singh, faced the screams of rage.
"Their demands aren't unjustified altogether. They are poor and the district is hit by drought. Scores of people like them are suffering like any other BPL card holder. "As a solution, the benefits of free 35-kg food items can be distributed equally among the poor," he said.
Block development and circle officers fear similar demonstrations. "Unless rules are changed, such things will happen frequently," said an officer on condition of anonymity.
Sources said when the SDO was trying to pacify the agitating women, he got a call came from Chatra MP Inder Singh Namdhari, who was earlier an MLA of the place. "He, too, wants equal rights for such poor people," the SDO said.
Sources said of some 182,000 BPL-category people, only 114,000 possess free ration cards.
"I won't be surprised if something like what happened during the French Revolution takes place in Jharkhand. Maoists can any time cash in on such a situation," a senior officer said on condition of anonymity.
TNN 7 August 2009,