Tragedy in a hut
I am Rillo Devi. I am the sixth child of a labourer called Deva. My mother used to work at the house of the village headman. She would work there till late in the night and would return home with left over foods given by the landlords. She had to wait till late in night to get even that.
Deva used to work in the agricultural fields of the landlords of the village but they were reluctant to pay the wages. He had to struggle a lot to get his daily wages. Most of the time his children would sleep without food. Deva worked for the whole day but would return home empty hand. The landlords were cruel and would not listen to his humble requests to give him his wages which he earned so laboriously.
Whenever Deva raised the issue of payment of wages with his landlords, he was abused and forced to accept whatever they would give. Most of the wages earned by him used to be adjusted against the interest on loan which his grandfather had taken from the ancestors of the present landlord. Although the generations of Deva had worked free to repay the loan but they could not be debt free as the repayments were always adjusted only against the interests.
Deva was not in a position to negotiate with the landlord and had to accede to every demand of the landlord. Once his wife was seriously ill. He wanted money for her medical treatment but the landlord would not budge. He wanted him to put thumb impressions on the blank stamp paper which he ultimately did and received only Rs 20 out of Rs150 loan which was recorded in the document. Rest of the amount was adjusted against the previous loan and interest thereupon. Deva left the place with Rs 20 in his hand with burden to pay loan of Rs 150 and interest ever multiplying
His in-laws, too, were earning livelihood only by working in the agriculture field of the landlord of the village. His brothers and sisters numbering six, all used to leave home early and work similarly. That is how they were alive.
Thus, the entire village used to work as bonded labour. They were working year after year just to repay the loan taken by their forefathers. They were not free to select master by choice. They could not also say ‘No’ to work even when they were ill. They were just like tools in the hands of the rich.
My parents married their children here and there so that they get rid of them. All of them started living separately with their husbands. Hardly anybody had any asset. Everybody was busy in earning livelihood by working with the village landlords. The only option was to die of starvation.
When I came to live with my husband Ramu , there was hardly anything to eat .My husband looked at me with hope that he would be able to get both time meal from tomorrow onwards because the newly married were given full support. My husband knew the price for that.
Thus, life became easy for my husband after I arrived in his house. But the story was not to last long. One day while both of us were returning home, my husband was bite by a cobra. Before anybody could know anything, he became unconscious. Many persons gathered around. He collapsed before anybody could have understood anything.
At the time my husband died, I had one-year son. There was hardly any support. My landlords offered me both time meal for which I had to stay and work in his house hold for the whole day and late in the night.
I was very much upset with the attitude of the landlord. He was a great exploiter. He was often harsh with me. I did not like these things but had no choice.
Gradually I started living there itself. I was allotted room on the top floor where nobody else had the access except the landlord. It went all well till I was young. I grew older with time. The landlord lost interest in me and would not bother even for my food and essential requirements.
Thereafter we shifted to our old hut. But there was no work there. I had to live without food on many occasions. In that situation my only son, Ramu, came to my rescue. He started earning from his ancestral profession of barber.
Ramu was unmarried. I fixed his marriage in a local family. The bride was hardworking and beautiful. However, the marriage had to be postponed as he suffered from a paralytic attack about two years ago. He was unable to move out of his hut. No body helped him to get proper medical treatment. He was just 40 years and could have recovered if timely treatment was made available but nobody bothered. So many poor persons fall ill and die without proper medical treatment. Thus, the case if Ramu was nothing new.
I was BPL (below poverty line) card holder and was, therefore, entitled for 76 kilograms of grains every month. This month, too, I got the grain but had to sell it for purchasing medicines for his ailing son. This left me without food to eat. I had none to help. Hardly anybody from the village would enquire from them about their condition.
They were without food several days. Ramu had grown weak. He was unable to walk or talk. He got medicines for a few days at the cost of food which had to be sold.
I went to the landlord several times and requested him for help but he did not help and abused me instead. I had grown very weak and was not in a position to work. So, I requested him repeatedly but he had no mercy.
One day a VIP had come to inaugurate a village road. I also heard about it from a neighbour. I stayed along the roadside for the whole day so that I could meet the VIP. After waiting for about three hours I saw many policemen forming barricade along both sides of the village road. That followed arrival of a large number of cars. The VIP was sitting in the middle. I tried to approach him but was thrown out by a constable. Thus, my effort to contact the VIP could not succeed.
The VIP made a long speech over poverty eradication. He distributed free gifts to the poor villagers and had also assured full financial help to the needy for taking medical treatment. I could not guess why my name was not included in the list of the needy. With my adult son bedridden for months together, I had absolutely no financial support but that could not draw attention of the agents of the VIP who made selective approach in selecting the poor and needy persons.
The VIP meeting was attended among others by several local leaders. The meeting was followed by sumptuous lunch. There were many items of the menu which the participants could not even touch. The left-over foods were wasted as the locals who wanted to have it were not allowed to enter the place in the name of the security. These food wastes were thrown on the road side after the meeting was over and the VIPs left the village. This was height of cruelty because the hungry and poor villagers were denied access to this food waste.
Next day all the newspapers and television channels reported about generosity of the VIP and his love for the poor. He was projected as the best leader of the state who could be the great saviour of the poor and downtrodden.
That day his ailing son had a sleepless night. He had not been able to eat anything for several days. I wanted to sell my blanket but nobody was ready to buy even for a nominal price.
The only source of income for me was some money I would get on the occasion of marriage of the villager who used to donate me some money on such occasions but marriage was not a routine thing to happen. Only once in a while I would get such chance. So, this income was hardly enough to sustain life.
I got up early morning as usual to find that Ramu was motionless. He was unable to respond. I touched his body just to find that he was dead. I started weeping. Many villagers gathered around. Everybody was talking about us. Even local leaders who were so much busy that day had time to come to my house and express sympathy. The matter was soon reported by the press.
There was a rush of media persons near my hut. Everybody was keen to know the details so that they could send message to their media houses/newspapers. Next day the newspaper was filled with the news item: Mother ,82, watches son dies of hunger “It was a very pathetic story”. Everybody was worried about the tragedy.