Malda : More than 50 tribal women in a Gajole village, one of the poorest in Malda district, put their children on sale yesterday to draw the administration’s attention to their poverty-stricken existence.
The children’s fair or sishu mela, as the tribals called it, was held in Bandighi, about 60km from the Malda district headquarters and barely 4km from a state highway. Bandighi has 60 Adivasi houses that have come up on vested land and none of the families have BPL cards.
Among the women was Malati Hembram who had lined up with her five-year-old daughter. “I will sell her off at whatever price I get. The money is not important, I just want my daughter to be taken in by a family which will give her food, shelter and education. We are not being able to sustain ourselves as well as our children and the elders in the family,” Malati said.
Minati Murmu who had come with two minor children said the women of the village had collectively decided to “sell” their sons and daughters.
“We get nothing from the panchayat. If we are continuously neglected, we will take our children and drop them off at the panchayat office,” she threatened. The mothers demanded that the panchayat take charge of their children. “No one came to take our children, so we want the panchayat to feed them. They are ailing as they do not get proper food and we, too, are weak to fend for ourselves,” Minati said.
Although the “children’s bazaar” was a form of protest, putting up babies for sale is not uncommon in Malda.
In July last year, Myno Baske, a widow from Najarpur whose family lived on boiled river herbs and snails, had been hunting for buyers for her two children.
After the administration came to know about her plight, she was brought under the BPL category and a pension scheme, and given a job card. Four months later, another woman, Samiara Bibi from Mahisbathani village, was reported going door to door to sell two of her five children.
After yesterday’s “children bazaar”, additional district magistrate Tarun Sinha Roy instructed the block development officer of Gajole to assess the condition of the people in Bandighi and report back to him. “We will see whether any income generating scheme can be launched there,” Roy said.
Today, BDO Ajmal Hussain faced angry villagers when he visited Bandighi. “The BDO told us what we were doing was illegal. But we told him that in that case, he should take charge of our children,” a Bandighi resident said.
Roy said a 100-days’ work scheme worth Rs 20 lakh would be introduced in the village soon. “As immediate relief, we are also arranging for clothes and ration for them,” he said.
The block president of Trinamul Congress, Rahalur Alam, said: “These people are so poor that they survive on wild yams and other roots. Most of the 105 children in the village go without a proper meal. I have heard that more than a hundred men have left the village looking for work elsewhere and never returned.” The women work in nearby fields and are paid at the rate of Rs 1,000 for three months.
Alam said it was a shame that such a village existed in Gajole, known to be a CPM bastion. “The CPM has been winning from Gajole all the time and the panchayat samiti is also theirs.”
The CPM gram panchayat pradhan of Deotala, under which Bandighi falls, Farhad Hossain, said there were many villages where people lived in abject poverty.
“We in the panchayats have our limitations. We cannot provide meals for all the poor people on a daily basis. There is no such scheme at our disposal,” the pradhan said.