A National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM) statement on state apathy towards death of hundreds of adivasi children in Malkangiri:
The National Alliance of People’s Movements is extremely pained and concerned about the rising number of deaths of adivasi children in the tribal district of Malkangiri, Orissa due to outbreak of Japanese Encephalitis (JE). While the deaths have crossed the unpardonable mark of 300, the Government as usual, continues to undercut the number to less than the half of the actual deaths. Even taking the official figure of 121 deaths, it an extremely serious case and calls for an urgent, comprehensive action, in a situation when state apathy and delay have been primary reasons for these avoidable deaths on such a large scale.
We are indeed shocked that the ‘Team of Experts’ sent by the Centre has tried to absolve the Government of all responsibility by attributing the deaths to consumption of some local seeds (Bana Chakundi) and not to JE and governmental delay, thereby blaming the adivasis themselves for the deaths! When as per the Orissa Government’s statistics, itself 32 cases are ‘confirmed JE’, there out to have been remedial medical response on a war-footing considering the seriousness of JE, which can be fatal or can lead to life-long intellectual, behavioral or neurological impairments in many cases. It is also a serious question as to why the Govt. did not ensure timely incorporation of JE immunization in the public health delivery, as per WHO standards and remained in denial mode. The extremely casual response of the medical department, State Govt. and now even the Centre through this ‘Expert Team’ only demonstrates that even in this time of crisis, the concern is more their ‘onus’ and ‘image’ than the life of the children.
Public Health Expert Dr. Sylvia Karpagam in her reasoned counter to the Centre’s report (attached) questions that when the so-called toxic seeds are consumed all round the year and by all families in the tribal region, since generations, it is intriguing as to why this epidemic erupts here only on children and why now. One likely reason might be that the presence of JE, in the already malnourished children, could have been aggravated by the consumption of the seeds, in some cases.
But for the Central Team to take a generalized and extrapolated position on the basis of only 5 urine samples (out of 121 official, admitted death) is certainly not a scientific way of medical research or does it appear convincing in the present circumstances. Many other experts as well have questioned the Central team’s unilateral conclusions, merely on the basis of toxicity in the urine samples, especially since JE cases and deaths have been reported across the district even in the Malkangiri town.
It is also pertinent to note that the Expert team has remained completely silent on the crucial role (or failure) of the anganwadis and ICDS monitoring system in the state in providing nutritional and health support to children in the tribal areas. This is despite the fact that the Apex Court has, time and again attached highest priority to ensure health and nutrition in all the tribal tracts and hamlets across the country, in the form of hot cooked meals. This situation is clearly in violation of the orders of the Supreme Court in the Right to Food Case (Civil Writ Petition No. 196/2001). In fact, one has to only go through the fact finding reports by Right to Food Campaign in Malkangiri districts conducted in 2012 as well as 2016.
The abysmal situation of Public Health Infrastructure and Food Distribution systems are one of the main reasons behind the regular outbreak of JE disease. The rampant malnutrition, under staffed public health institutions, abysmal health infrastructure are providing the perfect breeding ground for outbreak and spread of the disease. It is indeed ironical that while on the one hand the Union Ministry of Women and Child Welfare is pushing for packaged foods and gearing up to sign Corporate MoUs, in violation of SC’s norms, on the other the anganwadis and ICDS servises in many areas of Malkangiri or elsewhere, especially in tribal areas seem to be utter disarray.
In the light of this serious situation, NAPM:
- CALLS UPON the Centre and State to declare this as a medical emergency and ensure anti JE-immunization and other medical relief on a war-footing.
- DEMANDS an independent enquiry into this crisis by a multi-member team comprising of renowned public health professions, independent health activists and doctors.
- CALLS UPON the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) to immediately take cognizance of the situation and their team, including Commission members and medical experts to investigate the causes, recommend immediate measures and speed up action on the ground.
- CALLS UPON the Governor of Orissa to make an immediate visit to the affected areas as the constitutional custodian of peace and good government for the tribal areas and ensure relief and justice to the adivasi children and families.
- APPEALS to the Hon’ble Supreme Court to immediate take up this matter in the ongoing Right to Food case (Civil WP 196/2001) and issue directions to the State and Centre and also monitor the proceedings before the Orissa High Court in the ongoing PIL against the JE.
- APPEALS to all progressive activists, students, the national media and pro-people medical experts to reach Malkangiri to assist the adivasis in whatever way possible, establish the scientific and true reasons of the scale of deaths, intervene to ensure immediate medical assistance and press for accountability of the state agencies and other actors involved.
Signatories: Medha Patkar – Narmada Bachao Andolan and the National Alliance of People’s Movements (NAPM); Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Shankar Singh – Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan and National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, Prafulla Samantara – Lok Shakti Abhiyan & Lingraj Azad – Samajwadi Jan Parishad – Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti, NAPM, Odisha; Dr. Sunilam, Aradhna Bhargava – Kisan Sangharsh Samiti Suniti SR, Suhas Kolhekar, Prasad Bagwe – NAPM, Maharashtra; Milind Champanerkar, Editorial member, Andolan Magazine, Pune; Gabriele Dietrich, Geetha Ramakrishnan – Unorganised Sector Workers Federation, NAPM, TN; C R Neelkandan – NAPMKerala; P Chennaiah, Ramakrishnam Raju, Meera Sanghamitra, NAPM Telangana-AP, Arundhati Dhuru, Richa Singh, Nandlal Master – NAPM, UP; Sister Celia – Domestic Workers Union & Rukmini V P, Garment Labour Union, NAPM, Karnataka; Vimal Bhai – Matu Jan sangathan & Jabar Singh, NAPM, Uttarakhand; Anand Mazgaonkar, Krishnakant – Paryavaran Suraksh Samiti, NAPM Gujarat; Kamayani Swami, Ashish Ranjan – Jan Jagran Shakti Sangathan & Mahendra Yadav – Kosi Navnirman Manch,NAPM Bihar; Faisal Khan, Khudai Khidmatgar, J S Walia, NAPM Haryana; Kailash Meena, NAPMRajasthan; Amitava Mitra & Avik Saha, NAPM West Bengal; Bilal Khan, Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan, Mumbai, Bhupender Singh Rawat – Jan Sangharsh Vahini & Rajendra Ravi, Madhuresh Kumar, NAPM, Delhi
Also endorsed by: Dr .Mohan Rao MBBS, PhD , Professor, Centre of Social Medicine and Community Health, School of Social Sciences , Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi