Dying for ration: These Barmer widows and orphans are being turned away from PDS shops

Settlement has lost most of its men to liquor abuse; Women work as waste pickers

By Himanshu Nitnaware
Published: Monday 19 December 2022
Hastu Devi with the two orphaned children she adopted. Photo: Himanshu Nitnaware
Hastu Devi with the two orphaned children she adopted. Photo: Himanshu Nitnaware Hastu Devi with the two orphaned children she adopted. Photo: Himanshu Nitnaware

A small settlement of about 250 families in Barmer district, Rajasthan, has been devastated due to alcohol consumption. About three-quarters of the women are widows and, despite being impoverished and living below-poverty line, struggle to avail free ration from the government

The colony is located about 15 kilometres from the city and has lost most of its men to excess consumption of alcohol, leaving their widows vulnerable and children orphans. 

The remaining men work as boot polishers, drive public transport vehicles or find other daily wage jobs. However, even these men suffer serious health conditions, like cirrhosis and brittle bones, due to alcohol abuse. 

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

The women mainly work as waste pickers, earning around Rs 200 daily. 

Despite living in such conditions, many people from this settlement are being turned away from ration shops despite having valid cards

Hastu Devi from the settlement has a red ration card, which makes her eligible to receive 35 kilogrammes of food grains and an additional 5 kgs for each dependent family member by the state government. The widow stopped getting any ration in 2020. 

“I have had the same ration card since 1997. There was no reason to stop receiving ration from the government shop. I even have the government stamp indicating that I should be allocated the benefits,” she said. 

The grains she used to receive earlier were also irregular. “Sometimes I would get just 10 or 20 kgs. The officials at the shop would say there’s just this much for me,” she said. Her ration card showed proof of her claims.

With the irregular supply also stopped, Devi is now scraping the bottom of the barrel to eke out a living as a waste picker. The 56-year-old also has two orphans, Rahul and Veeru, dependent on her. 

“The children lost their parents to ill health about four years ago and there was no one to look after them,” said Devi, who stepped up and took in the kids. “Sometimes, the neighbours give me a couple of hundred rupees to buy food.”

At least 20 orphans in the settlement don’t have a ration card and receive no benefits through the Public Distribution System (PDS). All of them rely on the help and generosity of the neighbourhood, who have either adopted them or give them a share from their food. 

There are several similar stories from the colony. Ramesh also has a red ration card, which categorises him as a member of an impoverished family, according to the state government. But he hasn’t received any rations for the last six years. 

His ration card was made in 2002. “We stopped receiving free food grains in 2016. My two younger brothers have health issues due to consumption of excess country liquor and cannot work,” he told Down To Earth.  

The family tried several times to get the due ration but were turned away. “Your name is not listed to receive the food grains, the officials tell us,” he informed DTE

Ramesh has even linked his Aadhar card and other documents on the online portal as directed by the government. However, he still is still not able to receive the rations or even an answer to why he is being denied the benefits. 

Like Hastu Devi and Ramesh, there are at least 70 people in the community who do not have access to the government’s Public Distribution Scheme (PDS).

Read more: One nation one ration card: How many know about it

Driver Mukesh of the colony has been waiting to receive rations for a long time too. He has four members of his family dependent on him. “I can’t keep waiting to receive the grains to eat,” he said, adding that he also does daily wage jobs. 

His income varies between Rs 100 and Rs 300 a day. “At times, I don’t get work at all, on others , I have to put in additional work hours or take multiple shifts to earn enough to feed the family. Whatever I earn during the day is spent by the evening to feed the family. There is no money left for educating my two children or giving them medication when they fall ill,” Mukesh added. 

For the poor, every assistance from government schemes matters. It helps them to survive and possibly take a step away from poverty. But with such negligence from the officials, this chance is taken away. 

Devi spends Rs 4,000 on grains and Rs 3,000 on groceries every month. “If I get my due rations, I can save the money and educate my children. They may be able to get a job and live out of poverty finally,” she said.

However, at present, these are just dreams and there is no relief, Devi added.

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