In one of the most bizarre and inhuman incidents that has come to light during the 21-day lockdown announced by PM Narendra Modi, Musahars – a Dalit community living in the eastern Gangetic plains – has been pushed to eat grass to ease hunger pangs in PM’s constituency, Varanasi.
According to media reports and documents accessed by National Herald, news of Musahars eating grass was first published in Jan Sandesh Times last Wednesday, following which the local administration rushed to provide food and help to the starving community.
However, instead of appreciating the media’s role for highlighting the community’s plight, the administration slapped a notice “for defaming the Musahar community” on Vijay Vineet, author of the story and Subhash Rai, editor of the newspaper.
Signed by the district magistrate Varanasi Kaushal Raj Sharma, the notice, which was issued on March 26, alleged that the editor and the reporter were spreading ‘fake news’ in this ‘sensitive time’. Terming the publication of the story as a ‘dangerous attempt’ and demanding publication of a corrigendum, the DM also released a picture of his son eating the same grass.
The newspaper published the story titled ‘Banaras ke Koeripur me ghas kha rahe Musahar (Musahars eating grass in Varanai’s Koeripur)’ on Wednesday, in which a group of children were seen sitting cross-legged and eating grass, called “akri” in the local language.
The six kids aged between five to six years, belonging to the Musahar community have been identified as Rani, Pooja, Vishal, Neerhu, Soni and Golu.
Starving since March 24 – the day when the PM announced the lockdown –the children were eating the grass usually given to cattle as fodder from a wheat field in the village out of sheer desperation and hunger, reported the local media.
The local administration has claimed that the children photographed for the story were actually eating pulse, not grass.
Ever since the DM has issued a notice to the newspaper, reporter Vijay Vineet is living in fear. He told the media that he feared that he could be arrested any time by the UP police.
Ajay Rai, former MLA and the Congress candidate who fought Lok Sabha election against Modi in Varanasi, shot off a letter after a social media furore about the incident. Demanding that he be allowed to enter the area, the Congress leader urged the district magistrate to help the community.
He said, “People in that area hadn’t eaten for 2-3 days. As I have been an MP from that area, I had an idea about how badly this sudden lockdown would affect the people of the Musahar community who work in brick kilns in nearby villages. Keeping that in mind, I have made available three days’ worth of food.”
UP Congress president Ajay Lallu has also issued a statement in which he has condemned the action taken against the newspaper and demanded suspension of the Varanasi DM.
Various political parties, including Samajwadi Party, have urged the administration and the BJP government to reach out to the starving community and provide help.