More than 300 Adivasi children have died in the SC/ST majority district of Malkangiri in Orissa within the last two months. 2-3 children continue to die every day as we bring this news to you.* Besides small columns in local newspapers, there has been a haunting silence from national and international media on what should have been declared as a “national medical emergency”. It is beyond shocking that despite hundreds of lost lives, the cause of these deaths remains a ‘mystery’. Some deaths have been attributed to Japanese Encephalitis, of which there was an outbreak in Malkangiri in 2011 and 2012 as well. *The Odisha Government has completely failed to provide comprehensive and urgent medical attention/relief for prevention of these mass deaths. It has not only under-reported these deaths, but has also come up with a ludicrous hypothesis to shift the blame from gross government inaction to the ‘ignorance’ of tribals. According to the state government’s high-level expert committee, these deaths are supposed to be due to the consumption of bana chakunda seeds by children (a result arrived at on the basis of samples of only five affected children!). Parents who have lost their infant children, are asking this murderous government how 6-month-old babies may have ventured into the forest all on their own to consume toxic levels of so-called ‘poisonous’ seeds.
Various organisations, movements and students have come together as “Malkangiri Solidarity Network” to organise a series of protests across different cities in the country from 30th Nov to 5th Dec to demand immediate state intervention to address this medical emergency in Malkangiri. Demonstrations are being planned in Delhi, Guwahati, Nanded, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai, Mumbai, Thiruvananthapuram and other places. An online petition with specific demands from the government has also been initiated (https://www.change.org/p/sc-and-st-development-minority-and-demand-for-immediate-action-in-malkangiri-odisha). Complaints were filed with the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) and National Human Rights Commission on 25th Nov, but we are yet to see any meaningful action from these bodies. The NCPCR had taken suo-moto cognizance of the issue and issued a notice to Orissa Govt on 4th Nov, but their assured visit to Malkangiri on the basis of the complaint still lies pending. Each day of delay is leading to more loss of lives of innocent children.
It needs to be stressed that what is happening in Malkangiri right now is no less than a genocide, a massacre. A whole future generation of Adivasi lives are being silently wiped out through sheer criminal negligence of a Brahminical state, a negligence that is undoubtedly deliberate. The state has successfully deployed huge military forces in this same district but has been unable to even provide a credible ‘reason’ for the deaths of hundreds of Adivasi children. Activists and grassroots organisations, currently working in Malkangiri claim that severe malnutrition has a major role to play in these deaths. The abysmal state of public health care and child nutrition in Malkangiri clearly demonstrate where the priorities of the state lie. As deaths continue in Malkangiri with each passing day, Odisha government is currently busy organising the Make in Odisha Conclave in Bhuwaneshwar to ‘attract’ multinational corporations for ‘investing’ in the lands, rivers and mountains that the Dalit and Adivasi movements in Orissa have vowed to protect and not leave until their death. The sinister intent behind both the state and central government’s inaction lies exposed in this context.
Given the above circumstances, Malkangiri solidarity network organised dharnas across various cities including Hyderabad on 5thÂ of December 2016. Other cities are Bhubaneshwar, Guwahati, Delhi, Chennai, Bangalore, Trivandrum and Nanded.
In Hyderabad, the dharna was at Dharna Chowk, Indira park from 1 PM to 5 PM. The event was attended by various civil right activists including Bharat Bhushan Sir, Babu Rao Garu, Mallepalli Laxamiah Sir and Kaki Madhav Rao Sir along with various progressive organisations like Telangana Transgender Samiti. Various student organisations and student unions from HCU, OU, MANUU, EFLU, IIIT too gave solidarity to the struggle.
The following demands put forward by Malkangiri Solidarity Network were reiterated with greater vigour and might:
- a) To constitute a Medical Team to be sent to Malkangiri to provide the immediate necessary treatment.
- b) Constitute committee of Enquiry to find out the reasons behind the regular outbreak and large number of deaths being reported every year from Malkangiri.
- c) Pass orders to the District Hospital Authorities to put in public all the documents and reports on the treatment of children so that they can be scrutinized by public.
- d) Appoint an expert team to study the implementation of all government schemes in the area, including though not limited to implementation of food security act, sanitation and vaccination programmes, running of ICDS, anganwaadis.
- e) Orders to the state government to pay compensation of Rs. 10 Lakhs to the parents of the every deceased child.
- f) Order the state government to release the data to media and public regarding the situation, the prevalence of cases and deaths.
For more details, please contact, Surya: 09437500862 , Anil: 08527830687
Information about the protests in each city are available/will be updated onÂ the FB page of Malkangiri Solidarity Network (https://www.facebook.com/malkangirisolidaritynetwork/)
Detailed stories, interviews and videos documenting the deaths in Malkangiri have been done by *Dalit Camera.* Kindly refer to their website (http://www.dalitcamera.com/japanese-encephalitis-deaths-malkangiri/) and FB page (https://www.facebook.com/DalitCameraDC/).