Dying for ration: 70-year-old sustains family as mentally ill daughter, disabled son-in-law denied BPL benefits

Requests for below-poverty line card rejected

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Friday 16 December 2022
Nojidevi (centre) with her daughter and son-in-law. Photo: Himanshu Nitnaware
Nojidevi (centre) with her daughter and son-in-law. Photo: Himanshu Nitnaware Nojidevi (centre) with her daughter and son-in-law. Photo: Himanshu Nitnaware

A family of three in Rajasthan is struggling to survive on the earnings of the 70-year-old breadwinner of the family. While the family is eligible for a below-poverty line (BPL) ration card under the Public Distribution System (PDS), their requests for one keep getting denied. 

Septuagenarian Nojidevi lives about 160 km from Jaisalmer on the outskirts of Barmer. Her only valuables are two cows and four calves she rears for a livelihood. Nojidevi walks almost 15 kilometres every day to deliver milk. 

She lives with her daughter and son-in-law in a derelict house her husband left behind when he passed away several years ago. The daughter and her husband are entirely dependent on Nojidevi as well. 

“My daughter is mentally ill and my son-in-law has cancer. They cannot earn or take care of themselves,” she told Down To Earth.

Read more: Why people want to be poor

However, her plights don’t end here. Her feet have deformed with years of walking barefoot and she struggles to carry milk to deliver. Her cows are 30 years old and hardly produce any milk. 

“They generate about 14 litres of milk collectively, which has reduced by more than half with their age. I earn Rs 20,000 a month but spend Rs 15,000 on feeding and maintaining the cows,” she says. 

The cattle are an added burden on her. Three of the calves are male and one of them is blind. “I will have to take care of the blind one while the others will be raised for some years and then left out. The female cow will take another few years until she is grown enough to deliver milk,” she said.

Cows usually reach the age of milking at around two years of age. Nojidevi fears that if one of the cows dies or stops producing milk, her income will be further impacted

The only other assistance she has for survival is the 40 kilogrammes of wheat she gets under the government PDS as she has a BPL card. However, the supply lasts barely 15 days as three people share it.  

Nojidevi’s 40-year-old daughter Mangidevi and 45-year-old son-in-law Jodharam are not linked to the government’s PDS scheme despite several efforts. 

“We have made repeated attempts to inform the local officials that we are eligible for the BPL card,” said Jodharam. “We have a blue ration card, which indicates we are above the poverty line. We have provided the necessary medical records and documents, but all efforts have been futile.”

He says the family’s condition started deteriorating when his wife became mentally ill in 2001. He quit working as a daily wager to take care of her. The situation worsened when Jodharam was detected with Carcinoma Maxilla, a type of cancer, in 2019. 

“I had to immediately get operated on, which was expensive. I managed to pay Rs 850 for the state government’s Chiranjeevi health scheme, which gave me some respite,” he said.

The health condition cost him his left cheek and eye, making him permanently disabled. There are more surgeries to follow with the medication.

Though his cancer treatment cost is taken care of by the state government scheme, Jodharam has to travel to Gujarat to avail it and requires expenses for transport and food.

In recent months he has managed to get a pension scheme activated for him and his wife, which brings home another Rs 3,000. 

Read more: 40 million more people experienced food insecurity in 2021 than 2020: Report

“The money is not sufficient. We need the government food supply, as we spend all the money buying additional rations and groceries. There is no money left for minor illnesses, buying clothes or repairing the old damaged house,” he added.

A visit by DTE in December 2022 showed the run-down house in need of urgent repairs, with a leaky roof and broken walls. The last repair was done about 15 years ago, the family claimed. 

Getting food from PDS will ensure that the family saves a few thousand rupees to have their basic needs of food, clothing and shelter be fulfilled.

Jodharam also claimed to have visited the district collector to raise his concerns but his issues were not addressed. Speaking with DTE, district collector Lok Bandhu said he had no information about the situation and refused to comment further.


Nojidevi, on the other hand, is more concerned about her source of livelihood than her house. 

“The cowshed is also deteriorating and may fall apart anytime. The shed leaks during rains and I fear that my cows will fall ill and die. My only dream is to save enough money to build a new shed for them,” she said.

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