INDIA: Endless malnutrition deaths of the Sahariya tribal children in Madhya Pradesh 

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that children of the Sahariya tribe in Madhya Pradesh are continuously dying of malnutrition. According to a fact-finding report published in October 2010, five children died of malnutrition in two months and ten children are severely malnourished in the Nahargada village alone. The village belongs to the Shivpuri district and is notorious for children’s death from malnutrition and other sicknesses since 2004. It was reported that 23 children died of malnutrition during a period of five months from December 2009 to April 2010 and between March and May in 2004. The Right to Food Campaign Madhya Pradesh discovered that about fifty children died of malnutrition. This recent report indicated that in the Shivpuri district, 9450 children (20.7%) are severely malnourished at present, and most of them are tribal children. It proves that the government failed to eradicate hunger and child malnutrition despite continuous child deaths among tribes in this region. It further exposes the fact that that the Government of India does not have a genuine political will to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, particularly, the first goal, hunger.





Stories of three children who died of malnutrition and other sicknesses in the last two months

Parant, a three year old boy, died of malnutrition and other sicknesses on October 5 2010. Parant had suffered with diarrhea and vomiting, along with his malnutrition. The Sahariyan people including Parant’s parents find it difficult to approach any public health institutions due to long distances and negligence perpetrated against the tribes. [Photo 1] severely malnourished child, Nahargada village, Shivpuri district

The Anganwadi centre (AWC; child care centre), one of the primary health institutions at the village level has not taken care of the Sahariya children and mothers. Parant was registered at the AWC only in August 2010 and was not immunized, which is one of the main functions of the AWC. For Parant’s treatment, his father Ramlal and mother Ratia had to spend INR 1,100 (USD 24) initially and had to borrow INR 5,000 (USD 109) from a landlord villager belonging to the Yadav community. This situation developed as Parant became sick again with fever that developed into mouth ulcers a mouth later. They paid three percent interest or 150 rupees per month. In order to repay the loan and interest, Ramlal had to work at the lender’s farm without remuneration.

Parant’s parents have about one and a half acres of land out of which only one third is irrigated. It is not sufficient to provide adequate and nutritious food for the six family members to live on. They merely eat Indian bread with simple vegetables like onions, garlic or chilies and their intake of protein from dal (kind of bean) only once a week. They have an AAY card that is issued to the poorest among the Below the Poverty Line (BPL) families, but can only collect 32 kilograms of wheat a month instead of the 35 kilograms earmarked for them. The Saharya families including Ramlal’s family never get sugar and rice because these items are always out of stock at the ration shop.

In addition, the job card under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) issued to Parant’s eldest brother who is married is kept with the village head (sarpanch). In their bankbook, however, INR 2,719 (USD 59) was recorded, which neither Parant’s brother nor parents received. The former and current village heads who both belong to the Yadav community have been keeping the job cards of the Sahariya people, insuring that the beneficiaries never get proper employment and wages.

Another boy, ten month-old Rajveer who died on September 2010 had been malnourished since birth. Rajveer was not registered at the AWC either. Rajveer’s parents, Puran and Natia do not have any regular source of income, depending entirely on daily work available. They spent INR 500 (USD 11) for Rajveer’s treatment but could not afford further expenditure. Rajveer had diarrhea, fever and mouth ulcers before he died. Despite extremely poor living conditions, Puran and Natia do not have their own ration card that entitles them to get rations at the government-subsidized price of two rupees per kilogram. They share the AAY card with another family of Bhalla. One of the relatives with ten family members of these two different families is on the list for only one AAY card. When both of them asked the village council (panchayat) secretary to provide separate ration cards for each family, they were asked to pay bribes, which they could not afford. Thirty-three kilograms of wheat instead of 35 kilograms earmarked for them collected with the AAY barely lasts a week for the two families. As a result, they have to buy wheat at the market at 14 rupees per kilogram which is extremely difficult for them as they do not have a fixed income. This miserable situation drove them into borrowing money, INR 4000 (USD 82) only to buy food. It was the rainy season when the family faced the greatest lack of food and work. It may be that they have to work at the money-lenders farm without wages again.

Puran’s job card has been kept by the village head for the past two years. The job card is also shared with Bhalla’s family. The bankbook under the job card was opened at the Berad Post Office on July 30, 2009. According to Mr. Bhalla, he had done some plantation work months ago and received a wage that was less than INR 455 (USD 10) shown in the bankbook. The village head and the Secretary withdrew the wage on behalf of Bhalla and allegedly took out their bribes in the process.

Rampuri, a two year four month old girl faced the same death as the two children mentioned above. Rampuri was not registered at the AWC. The worker said that she did not register Rampuri as she is originally from other village and recently moved to the village. No AWC staff had ever visited the family. The parents, Kailash and Phulwati have about one acre of non-irrigated land from which they find it difficult to grow sufficient food and get health care for all five children. For Rampuri’s treatment, the parents borrowed INR 3,000 (USD 65.4) from a villager belonging to the Yadav community at two percent interest monthly. Kailash used to migrate to Mombai seeking work as he cannot find work in his home village and does not have a job card.

Currently, ten children are severely malnourished in the village. Two year-old Ashik suffered from Pneumonia and has severe acute malnutrition (Mid-Upper Arm Circumference, MUAC registers as 110mm). Ashik’s younger brother is underweight as well. One year-old Kuldeep (MUAC is 115) is also severely malnourished. His elder brother died earlier. One year-old Paran and five year-old girl, Malti.(MUAC is 114) are also severely malnourished. These children were admitted to the Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre (NRC) in Pohari. It was ironic that the administrative officers, including the Collector visited the village on the same day as the fact-finding team visited.

After a series of media reports on the Sahariya children’s deaths in Nahargada village, the local administration, on October 6 and 7 visited the village, holding a one-day health camp. Since then there is a monthly health check up by the health camp. Five children including Malti (five year old girl),and three boys, Pradeep (seven years), Pawan (eight years) and Ashiq (three years) were found with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM) and were taken to the NRC,16 kilometers from their village. The Collector suspended three AW workers in the district but no one is appointed since then. The MGNREGS somehow initiated but not all Sahariya get a job card. After the Collector’s visit, the AWC was shifted to a family house of the Sahariya tribe which is not properly ventilated and very dark even during the daytime.

Food insecurity of the Sahariya tribe:

As the above stories portray, the Sahariya tribe, one of the Primitive Tribe Groups (PTGs) in India, faces extreme poverty and serious child malnutrition. Forty-four out of seventy-nine households are Sahariyas and most are economically dependent on working the agricultural land of the Yadavs who are big landlords in the village. Some Sahariyas have about one acre of land which is usually not irrigated. The absence of a fixed income source, particularly from agricultural land in rural areas, promotes tribal discrimination and corruption. They have to depend on the landlords in Yadav village or labour contractors for migration work to feed themselves and their families. In addition, the failure of the public health system for the Sahariya forces them to take out loans with high interest rates from the landlords. Or alternatively, they have to work intensely for no wages to pay back the loans and interest accrued. In conclusion, the poverty and the food insecurity of the Sahariya people are continuously aggravated.

On the other hand, all the government schemes aiming to guarantee food security for the poor are controlled by the village council (panchayat). It is usually composed of non-tribal people who tend to discriminate or exclude tribal people. All the practices perpetrated against the tribe in the village are illegal in that; the village head keeps the job cards of the villagers; the Secretary of the village council asks bribes of villagers who demand placement in government schemes to which they are entitled; the AW worker neither registers or visits the children of the tribe – accordingly no tribal children are immunized; the ration shop run by the village head is open only once a month and distributes less rations than what is legislated. The ration shop is three kilometers away from the village.

However, these illegal practices are allowed to exist due to negligence on the part of local and state government administrations.. Despite the fact that many children die every year of malnutrition and other sicknesses associated with malnutrition, the local administration does not pay particular attention to these deaths.

In Shivpuri district alone, around 9500 children are severely malnourished according to a survey by the Women and Child Development Department. It shows that 65 percent of the children are malnourished, out of which 20.7 percent suffer from Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). However, all the public health institutions fail to provide proper health care for the tribal people. The Primary Health Centre (PHC) is located in Berad, nine kilometers from Nahargada village. The PHC officers do not visit the villages, as vehicles are not available. Doctors charge medical fees, which the poor cannot afford. The Community Health Centre (CHC) is 30 kilometers away, which is not approachable by the Sahariya. Neither are sub-PHC and sub-CHC. The AWC was sanctioned two years ago. It was set up in the house of one of the Yadav community members, which makes it difficult for the tribes to approach. It could be that they are even not allowed. The AWC did not provide any supplementary nutrition for the malnourished children until the Collector visited Nagargada village. For the past two years, the supplementary food provided by the AWC was sold at the shop. The AW workers including the Auxiliary Nurse Midwife (ANM) are not tribal friendly, mainly working for the children of non-tribal families. Only ten percent of the children were reportedly immunized. Twenty out of forty children clinically examined show signs of Kwashiorkor with pot bellies, muscle wasting, and underweight with other sicknesses such as fever, diarrhea, stomachache and skin boils.

Long distances, unaffordable medical fees at public health institutions and negligence of medical officers are the main obstacles for the tribes which make them reluctant to go for treatment. The private doctors more often than not are non-qualified quacks but usually more friendly and available to the tribes.

Poor water supply and sanitation in the village is also a main cause of various sicknesses that causes the child death aggravating malnutrition. The only source of drinking water is an open well, located one kilometer from the village but was never cleaned. Fifteen hand pumps were non-functional when the fact-finding team visited. The big pond for irrigation is used mainly by the Yadav community. No proper bathrooms with toilets are available in the homes and there is no drainage system in the village. [Photo 2: unclean well in the village]


Please join us in expressing your deep concern for the Sahariya tribe in Nahargada village of Shivpuri district who have been facing child death and malnutrition for years. Please note, that the administration as well as the state government failed to guarantee food security and freedom from hunger of the Sahariya tribe by practices of discrimination and corruption.

The AHRC has also written a separate letter calling for the intervention of the UN Special Rapporteurs on the Right to adequate food and on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health respectively and the Independent Expert on human rights and extreme poverty.




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Dear __________,

INDIA: Call for substantial action to free Sahariya from hunger and child malnutrition


Name of the deceased children:

1. Parant, three year old, son of Ramlal and Ratia, died September 21, 2010

2. Rajveer, ten month old, son of Puran and Natia, died October 5, 2010

3. Rampuri, two years and four months, daughter of Kailash and Phulwati, died late September, 2010

4. Sunny Deol, two months old, son of Kasharam

Name of the severely malnourished children:

1. Ashik, two year old, son of Vijay Singh and Ganeshi, MUAC 110

2. Keldeep, one year and a month old, son of Gangaram and Angoori, MUAC 115

3. Pawan, one year old, son of Bageti and Moti, MUAC 105

4. Malti, five year old, daughter of Ramwati and Ramet, MUAC 114

5. Other severely malnourished children in Nahargada village as well as Shivpuri district

Date of incident

: since September 2010

Place of incident

: Nahargada village, Pohri Block, Shivpuri District, Madhya Pradesh, India


I am deeply concerned about the children of the Sahariya tribe living in Shivpuri district who for years have died of malnutrition and other sicknesses associated with malnutrition.

I am informed that five Sahariya children have already died between September and October of this year 2010 and currently about ten children are severely malnourished. However, facts show me that the Sahariya children died of malnutrition long before these cases and continue to die every year while many deaths are not reported. A report states that 23 children died of malnutrition from December 2009 to April 2010. Between March and May 2004, the Right to Food Campaign Madhya Pradesh discovered that around fifty children died of malnutrition. The recent report says that in the Shivpuri district, 9450 children (20.7%) are severely malnourished at present and 65 percent are either moderately or severely malnourished. Most of them are tribal children. All these reports and data prove that the children in this case died of malnutrition and sicknesses not by some mistake, but by failure of the system which practiced discrimination and corruption against the Sahariya tribe. The stories of all the malnourished children in Nahargada village testify to this.

Parant, Rajveer and Rampuri are among the deceased children. They are all Sahariya children and their parents face lack of resources to provide daily food. Parant and Rampuri’s families have one or one and a half acres of agricultural land but cannot get enough food from the land as it is mostly not irrigated. Forty-four out of the seventy-nine households living in the village are Sahariyas. They are economically dependent on the Yadav community who own large agricultural tracts with sufficient water supply for proper cultivation. When their children became sick and malnourished, the parents of Parant and Rampuri borrowed money with 2-3% monthly interest from the landlord, INR 5000 (USD 109) and 3000 (USD 65.4) each. Rajveer’s family had to borrow INR 4000 (USD 82) for food.

I am aware that the government programmes aiming to guarantee food security of the poor who do not have a regular food source or do not have any purchasing power are available for the poor Sahariya too. However, I found that it is not properly implemented in the village due to discrimination and corruption against the Sahariya. I am informed that the job cards of Parant and Rajveer’s families are kept by the village head (sarpanch) and Rampuri’s family do not even have a job card. In addition, the bankbook of Parant’s family related to the job card records INR 2719 (USD 59), which no family member actually received. The village head also runs the ration shop licensed under the Public Food Distribution System (PDS), which sells 32-33 kilograms of wheat instead of 35 kilograms of rice and wheat, opening just one day a month. Rice and sugar are always out of stock. In the case of Rajveer, the family’s AAY card issued to the poorest among the poor is shared with another family of Bhalla who is Rajveer’s relative. Thus, ten members of two families currently use one AAY card. Two families requested the Secretary of the village council (panchayat) to issue separate AAY cards but were in return asked to pay bribes, which they could ill afford. I am aware that all these practices are illegal infringing the Supreme Court Order on right to food and more fundamentally, the Constitution of India guaranteeing the right to food as a fundamental right.

I am also informed that the public health institutions such as the Anganwadi centre (AWC), Primary Health Centre (PHC), Community Health Centre (CHC) and district hospitals do not provide adequate medical service for the Sahariya. The deceased children were either not registered or only recently registered at the AWC. None of them was immunized. An AW worker never visited the Sahariya children and mothers. PHC, CHC and district hospitals are far away from the village and the doctors charge a medical fee. When the Sahariya children get sick, they find it difficult to approach those health institutions as too far away to reach quickly and are often neglected if they get there. As a result, the Sahariya tend to depend on private, non-qualified “healers “(Quacks) who are friendlier and more easily approached. The Sahariya also face a lack of safe drinking water. It was discovered that the open well for drinking water had never been cleaned. Fifteen hand pumps did not work when the fact-finding team visited. They do not have a water supply to use for irrigation purposes either. As you know, the lack of safe drinking water is one of the main causes of various sicknesses, aggravating malnutrition in children.

I am of opinion that all these illegal practices and neglect perpetrated against the Sahariya have been allowed by the administrations of both local and state government. They do not pay attention to their duty of care owed to the people who suffer hunger especially the children who suffer from malnutrition.

I am aware that the Prime Minister on November 24 2010 spoke during the National Council on India’s Nutrition Challenges. He stated that in spite of the impressive growth of the economy and the start of a number of programmes aimed at meeting the nutritional challenge, the levels of under-nutrition continue to remain unacceptably high. Further, the rates of reduction in under-nutrition over time have been disappointingly low. The Prime Minister said this was simply unacceptable. I welcome his acknowledgement and willingness to eradicate child malnutrition and hunger in India. I also welcome the discussion between the concerned Ministries such as the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, and the Ministries dealing with health and safe drinking water.

I have been made aware in two ways of the many children who died of malnutrition. One is through the Hunger Alerts Cases reported by the AHRC since 2005 and the second is from other reports published by local human rights groups concerning problems of children and women. All the cases unequivocally show the deep-rooted discrimination and corruption against the vulnerable groups such as the Dalits and other Tribes, causing child malnutrition in both of these endangered groups. I am of the opinion that all the concerned Ministries should make child malnutrition and hunger a priority showing a co-responsible attitude and put forth an integrated policy on it.

After the media highlighted the children’s deaths and subsequently the local administrative officers including the Collector visited the Nahargada village, a one day-health camp was held in the village and monthly health check up is carried out. Three AW workers were suspended but no one is appointed till now. The MGNREGA was initiated but not all Sahariya have a job card at present. Four out of ten severely malnourished children were taken to the Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre (NRC). However, the mere suspension of workers and a one-day health camp and monthly health check up will not root out the causes of child malnutrition in this village.

Therefore, I urge you to intervene to ensure food security of the Sahariya tribe by:

1. Providing sufficient water supply for irrigation for Sahariya land,

2. Monitoring the minimum wage of the Sahariya who are landless labourers,

3. Fully implementing MGNREGA for all the Sahariya who are legally eligible,

4. Punishing village heads and secretary who violate the rights of the Sahariay by entering into corruptive practices.

5. Providing job and AAYs card to each Sahariya household including separated families,

6. Normalizing ration shop workings in accordance with the Supreme Court Order and distribute 35 kilograms of rice and wheat, and sugar,

7. Building a proper AWC in the Sahariya tribe area and providing full health-care for the children and mothers with the assistance of health worker who are tribe-friendly,

8. Providing special nutrition at AWC for all the Sahariyan children and mothers until rooting out malnutrition,

9. Providing safe drinking water facilities that work efficiently throughout the entire year,

10. Monitoring the situation continuously while proposing a comprehensive policy to ensure food security for the Sahariya now and in the future.

None of demands is new. But what is needed is full implementation of the existing government programs and policies for the poor without corruption and discrimination. We believe that the government of India could reduce the child death rates and malnutrition cases by full implementation without corruption or negligence. Further, as the Prime Minister announced this year, the concerned government agencies and public servants at various levels should make the right to food and health care a priority, so that all can contribute to save the children while at the same time achieving minimum Millennium Development Goals.

I look forward to your prompt action to provide substantial and comprehensive policies outlined by the Prime Minister as well as other Ministries, and to continue to monitor the food security of the Sahariya tribe.

Yours sincerely,




1. Dr. Manmohan Singh

Prime Minister

South Block, Raisina Hill,

New Delhi,

110 101


Fax: 91-11-23019545 / 91-11-23016857

2. Krishna Tirath

Minister of Women and Child Development

Government of India


Fax: +91 11 2331 4788


3. Mr. Shivraj Singh Chouhan

Chief Minister

Government of Madhya Pradesh

Vallabh Bhawan

Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh


Fax: +91 755 244 1781


4. Mr. Avani Vaish

Chief Secretary

Government of Madhya Pradesh

Vallabh Bhawan,


Madhya Pradesh,


Tel: +91 755 2441848

Fax: +91 755 2441751


5. R. Parshuram

Principal Secretary

Department of Rural Development

Government of Madhya Pradesh

Vallabh Bhawan,


Madhya Pradesh


Tel: +91 055 2551114 / 2441348

6. B R Naidu

Principal Secretary

Department of Women and Child Development

Government of Madhya Pradesh

Ballabh Bhawan, Bhopal

Madhya Pradesh,


Tel: +91 755 2550894

7. S R Mohanti


Department of Health and Family Welfare

Government of Madhya Pradesh

Ballabh Bhawan, Bhopal,

Madhya Pradesh


Tel: +91 755 4251330

Fax: +91 755 2441075


8. Raj Kumar Pathak

District Collector

Shivpuri District

Madhya Pradesh



9. Mr. Justice K.G. Balakrishnan


National Human Rights Commission

Faridkot House, Copernicus Marg

New Delhi 110001


Fax + 91 11 2338 4863


10. Mrs. Shantha Sinha


National Commission for the Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR)

5th Floor, Chnadralok Building, Janpath,

New Delhi


Fax: +91 11 23731584

E-mail: /

Thank you.

Right to Food Programme (

Asian Human Rights Commission (

Document Type : Hunger Alert Case
Document ID : AHRC-HAC-011-2010
Countries : India,
Issues : Right to food, Right to health,