Dying for ration: Tribal beneficiaries of Jharkhand PDS don’t have salt, surviving on plain boiled rice

Ration cards for many cancelled; Landless villagers migrate to city for work

By Raju Sajwan
Published: Wednesday 28 December 2022
A child from a tribal community eating plain boiled rice received in ration. Photo Vikas Choudhary / CSE
A child from a tribal community eating plain boiled rice received in ration. Photo Vikas Choudhary / CSE A child from a tribal community eating plain boiled rice received in ration. Photo Vikas Choudhary / CSE

An earlier Down To Earth ground report retold the story of a Jharkhand couple from a tribal village Sarhua that hasn’t received ration in seven years. About 80 kilometres from Sarhua, several tribal families are surviving on tasteless boiled rice distributed by the Public Distribution System (PDS), as they don’t even receive salt with their ration. 

There are eight families of the Parhiya tribe in Dhumkhar Tola of Manatu block, Palamu district. It is among the eight primitive tribes in the region. Most of the families of this tribe live in different hamlets in hilly areas. 

Read more: Foodgrains from the Centre to states fell by almost four million tonnes in last three years: Data

Very little information is available on the Jharkhand government’s Department of Tourism, Arts, Culture, Sports and Youth Affairs website about the tribe. Anthropologist Edward Tuite Dalton considered them remnants of a great tribe who were originally nomads.

Members of this tribe speak Hindi mixed with Sadri-Maghi. The name Parhiya originates from the Hindi word ‘pathaar’, meaning plateau. 

Like other tribes of the state, Parhiyas have also been included in the Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group and are provided packaged ration wherever they live.

DTE team found only women and children living in Dhumkhad Tola, situated on a rough-stoned path in the middle of the forest, about 15 kilometres from the main road leading from Daltonganj to Chatra. 

फोटो: विकास चौधरी

Rambha Devi from Dhumkhad Tola. Photo Vikas Choudhary / CSE

Rambha Devi told the team that her husband Amresh Parhiya works in Rajasthan and the couple has two children. They do not own any land but have been farming on some vacant land nearby for years.

The children wore tattered clothing even in the shivering December weather. Most of the children in the hamlet looked malnourished. The kutcha houses with thatched roofs also looked like they barely provided any shelter. 

Read more: Dying for ration: Deep in debt, Rajasthan villagers sell animals

When asked if she had a ration card, Devi replied ‘yes’, but could not produce it, saying it had been “deleted” and taken for correction. Like Anar Devi from Sarhua, she doesn’t know the meaning of the word “delete”, but she has been receiving ration regularly. 

However, the tribal family stopped receiving salt with their grains a few months ago and receives only rice now. 

The DTE reporter spotted a six-year-old child eating plain boiled rice and asked her for a bite to see what the families were sustaining on. The girl initially pulled her plate away but then hesitantly let the reporter taste the food. The child was eating plain boiled rice with barely a hint of salt. 

Over 40 per cent of children under the age of five in Jharkhand are malnourished. Around 9 per cent are categorised as severely malnourished, according to the National Family Health Survey-5. 

Photo Vikas Choudhary / CSE

Over 40 per cent of children under the age of five in Jharkhand are malnourished. Photo Vikas Choudhary / CSE

The ration card of two tribal families has been cancelled, said Naresh Kumar, who has surveyed the primitive tribal families of the block on behalf of a voluntary organisation. These families are receiving ration with a digital copy of the old ration card.

“There are complaints of ration cards being cancelled from all over Manatu block and people are not receiving any food grains,” said Kumar. “When they ask the officials, they are not told why the reason for it either.”

The landless families have no income source, which is why only elders, women and children are seen in most of the tribes of primitive tribes. Most of the young people have migrated. These people send some money home every couple of months, which helps their families survive.

These families can’t depend on agriculture because they don’t have any land. The crops they grow on the little vacant land around them are inadequate. The deficient rainfall this year affected the hamlet as well and all the crop planted this year, mostly maize, dried up. 

Even the people of Parhiya tribe are not getting new ration cards. Manati Devi, another resident, said her son did not get a ration card even though he is married and has kids. “My son has gone to the city to earn and his children are surviving on the ration we get,” she said. 

मनाती देवी। फोटो: विकास चौधरी

Manati Devi of Parhiya tribe. Photo Vikas Choudhary / CSE

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

Manati has planted chickpeas on some vacant land but doesn’t have much hope for it. 

Between 2013 and 2021, 1,021,712 ration cards were cancelled in Jharkhand. The government gave three reasons for the cancellation of ration card:

  • Increase in income, so the beneficiaries are no longer eligible for the card;
  • Owning two ration cards;
  • Having fake ration cards. 

The residents said officials often delete old names from the list of beneficiaries to add new ones instead of verifying the credentials. Meanwhile, the villagers survive on plain boiled rice with no salt, with no respite in sight

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