INDIA: Human rights activist threatened for reporting starvation death


Urgent Appeal Case: UA-333-2007
ISSUES: Caste-based discrimination, Corruption, Human rights defenders, Right to food,

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights [PVCHR] in Uttar Pradesh that their field activist Mr. Manoj Kumar is threatened by the local authorities for reporting a case of death from starvation. Pritam, three-year-old son of Mr. Ram Karan starved to death in Arkhapur (Alhadapur) on 25 November, 2007. Manoj Kumar was helping Pritam’s parents to pursue the local authorities to save Pritam’s life.


Pritam [picture1] was three-years-old. His parents are from the Chamar community, a community considered untouchable in India. Manoj is the local field staff of the PVCHR who was trying to help the family to get required medical assistance to Pritam since his parents could not afford it.

On 13 October 2007, Pritam was taken to the R. K. Primary Health Centre. At the centre Dr. R. K. Singh diagnosed Pritam was suffering from acute malnourishment. Pritam was suffering from Grade IV malnourishment and Pneumonia. Priam was weighing only five kilograms.

Once the PVCHR came to know about Pritam’s case, he was taken care of by the PVCHR. However Pritam did not respond to the treatment and died on November 25. Since October 13 Manoj [picture 2] was trying to alert the district administration regarding Pritam’s situation. Manoj, through the PVCHR contacted the District Magistrate (DM) Mr. Ajay Kumar Upadhyay seeking help from the district administration to help Pritam’s family. The response of the district administration however was not positive. The officers at the DM’s office threatened Manoj for taking up the cases, particularly those of the Dalit communities in the village. Being insensitive to the plight of the poor people within his jurisdiction, the DM who came to the village the next day after Pritam’s death threatened Pritam’s father, Raj Karan, intimidating him and shouting at Raj that some of their children would die if a poor person like Raj had several children.

Raj has seven children. It is true that having more children to feed is a problem in poor families. But one also has to understand that in poor families in rural India where there are no guarantees that any child would eventually survive the odds to take care of the family when the parents are old, the parents tend to have as many children as possible when they are relatively healthy. Additionally having several children also means that there are more earning members in the family.

In the first week of November the staff from the AHRC visited the village. When the district administration came to know that national and international attention is brought into the village, the officers from the district administration came to village for the first time and gave Rupees 100 (USD 2) each and a bottle of milk to some families and threatened them not to talk to any ‘human rights people’. Pritam’s parents also were threatened by the officers in similar fashion.

The state government has several schemes to ensure food security to the rural communities. All these schemes can functions well only if the district administration functions properly. The village head under the Panchayath Raj Scheme also has a duty to ensure that the welfare schemes for the poor families, particularly of the Dalit communities, in fact reach those who are in need. Unfortunately in Ahaladpur village, the village head Mr. Sangram Verma himself is the barrier for these schemes to reach the needy.

For example, the proper distribution of subsidised food grains through the Public Distribution System (PDS) depends upon the earnestness of the village head in ensuring proper delivery of the food grains through the PDS shop. Sangram, the village head is corrupt and prevents the food grains from being distributed to the poor. The grain stock is sold to private restaurants through the black market. For this the village head connives with the PDS shop licensee, Mr. Ram Kuber. The village head also prevents the poor from getting a ration card, which is an essential document to get rationed articles through the PDS shop. For example Raj has a ration card, but the food grains that he could get through the PDS shop is not enough to feed his family. This is because often the shopkeeper refuses to distribute grains on the ground that there is no stock.

When Pritam died, several news reporters came to the village to cover Pritam’s story. Fearing that this would expose the village head and his corrupt practices, the village head on 26 November 2007 threatened Manoj that if this continues, he would be beaten up. This is not the first instance where children have died from malnourishment in this village. On 13 April 2007, the AHRC had reported the case of 5-year-old Juli who was also facing similar situation as of Pritam from the same village. Three days after the appeal Juli died. For further information please see HA-005-2007.

The Anganwadi in Alhadapur village is not functioning properly. The Auxiliary Nursing Mother (ANM) neglects the duty to such extent that the ANM only visited the families a day prior to the AHRC’s visit to the village. The Anganwadi is a government run centre where nutritious food and primary medical care is expected to be provided to the poor children. It is also a place where the staffs are expected to keep records of the general health conditions of rural children who visit the Anganwadi. These records are vital because they are also used by the state governments to take policy decisions regarding medical care for rural children.

The Anganwadi staffs are also trained in adopting World Health Organization (WHO) protocols. The activities at the Anganwadis are: 1) continuous mapping of severely malnourished children in village, 2) regular weighing of children with the involvement of mothers, 3) tracking and listing, referral services, home visits by Anganwadi helpers, 4) special visits to the homes of the children discharged from Malnutrition Treatment Centre (MTC) and involvement of community volunteers. Children falling in Grade III and IV of malnutrition must be monitored for signs and symptoms of infections and referred to Public Health Centres, First Referral Unit (FRU) or Community Health Centres for treatment. 

Neglect of duty and lack of proper accountability of the primary health care staff is quite common in India. As for the poor families in Alahadapur are concerned they do not even know where the Anganwadi is and what services are available through the Anganwadi. 

The AHRC in the past has reported several cases where poor children from rural background have lost their life due to the neglect of the primary health care staff in India. This partially explains why one in every third malnourished child lives in India.

As of now there are several other families living in similar condition as that of Raj Karan in Alhadapur. If the state administration fails to take immediate steps to address the serious food crisis in Alhadapur village more people will die from starvation and malnourishment in this village.

Please write to the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh to express your concern in this case. As for Manoj Kumar, even though he has been threatened and intimidated by the authorities he is continuing his work in the village. Manoj however requires your immediate support failing which his life will be in danger.

The AHRC also requests you to write to the state government authorities expressing concern about Manoj Kumar and the living condition of the poor families in Alhadapur. Please request the state government to direct the district administration that the PDS shop and the Anganwadi in the village functions properly. The functioning of the PDS shop must be investigated by the police and penal actions taken against the shopkeeper and the village head if they are found guilty of black-marketing of rationed articles.

The AHRC is writing a separate report to the UN Rapporteur on Right to Food calling for an intervention into the case.

To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER


Ms. Mayawati
Chief Minister
Chief Minister’s Secretariat
Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh
Fax: +91 522 2230002 / 2239234

Dear Chief Minister,

INDIA: Please take immediate actions to prevent further starvation deaths in Alhadapur

Details of victims: 
1. Pritam, aged 3 years, son of Mr. Ram Karan, Arkhapur (Alhadapur), Ambedkar Nagar, Uttar Pradesh state, died of starvation on 25 November 2007
2. Mr. Manoj Kumar, human rights activist, PVCHR, Arkhapur (Alhadapur), Ambedkar Nagar, Uttar Pradesh state, received threats since October 2007
Name of alleged perpetrator: Mr. Sangram Verma, village head, Ahaladpur village, Ambedkar Nagar, Uttar Pradesh
Location: Arkhapur (Alhadapur), Ambedkar Nagar, Uttar Pradesh state

I am writing to express my concern about the case of Pritam, the three-year-old son of Mr. Ram Karan. I am informed that Pritam died due to acute starvation on 25 November 2007. I am also informed that Mr. Manoj Kumar, the human rights activist who was helping Pritam and his family is now facing threats from the district administration and from the village head Mr. Sangram Verma.

I am aware that Pritam’s death was widely covered by the local media in Uttar Pradesh. I am also aware that the village head threatened Manoj for bringing media attention to the village to cover Pritam’s story. I am also aware that on the same day the District Magistrate Mr. Ajay Kumar Upadhyay also threatened Pritam’s father Mr. Raj Karan accusing him for having several children.

I am informed that the public health service facilities in the village is non functional. The villagers even do not know whether there is an Anganwadi in the village. The Auxiliary Nursing Mother (ANM) has never visited the village. I am also informed that the Public Distribution Shop in the village does not function well and that the licensee Mr. Ram Kuber is corrupt and connive with the village head to sell the food grains in black-market.

I am aware that when Pritam’s death was reported through the media several officers from the district administration visited the village, which had they been doing regularly in the past would have saved Pritam. I am surprised that instead of this they visited the village only when a death was reported in the media. Such a response indicates that the district administration is only interested in covering up issues and taking action when they are pushed to it. It also indicates that the district administration is aware that the state government will take disciplinary actions against the officers in the district for dereliction in duty. This is an administrative failure for which the District Magistrate must be held responsible.

I am informed that the Asian Human Rights Commission and the People’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights have been in the past reporting cases of starvation and malnourishment from the village in the past, of which the case of Juli, a five-year-old girl and her death from starvation in 16 April 2007 is of particular importance. Had the district administration been prudent enough to ensure that similar instances will not be repeated in the village any further, Pritam would not have died. Now that Pritam also is dead, the attitude of the district administration and the village head is to threaten those who work for the rights of the poor people in the village, which is even more condemnable.

I therefore request you to:

1. Conduct a thorough enquiry into the circumstances that led to the death of Pritam and Juli with the help of the local human rights activists;

2. Carryout a disciplinary enquiry into the functioning of the district administration responsible for the village;

3. Order the local police to takedown the statement of Mr. Manoj Kumar, who has been threatened by the village head and take appropriate actions in the case;

4. Direct the District Medical Officer to conduct an enquiry into the functioning of Anganwadi and the ANM responsible for the village;

5. To take appropriate steps to map out other Chamar and other lower caste and poor families in the village who require immediate medical and other support, and;

6. United Nations programmes like the World Food Programme must ensure that the technical assistance and knowhow that they provide to the state and central governments are in fact put into actual practice. Taking a cue from this case and also the earlier cases that were reported to these agencies, the WFP must engage the government of India into a dialogue to ensure that the government welfare programmes sponsored by the WFP is in fact reaching the target population.

Yours sincerely,



1. District Magistrate
Ambedkarnagar, Uttar Pradesh
Fax: +91 542 250 1450

2.  The Secretariat
Right to Food Campaign – India
Q – 21-B, Top Floor, Jungpura Extn.
New Delhi – 110014

3. The Regional Director 
World Food Programme
Unit No. 2, 7th Floor, Wave Place Building
55 Wireless Road, Lumpini, Patumwan
Bangkok 10330
Fax: +66 2 655 4413

4. The Country Director 
World Food Programme 
2 Poorvi Marg, Vasant Vihar, 
New Delhi 110057
Fax: +91 11 2615 0019

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme 
Asian Human Rights Commission (

Document Type : Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID : UA-333-2007
Countries : India,
Issues : Caste-based discrimination, Corruption, Human rights defenders, Right to food,