Corruption Makes The Poor Sleep Hungry

Dalits in Barabanki suffer from Corruption in PDS

About the Video: Since 1997, Video Volunteers’ Community Correspondent Suneela Raj from Barabanki district, Uttar Pradesh has not received the subsidised grains promised to her under the Public Distribution System scheme. She is among the around 35 dalit households who have been issued the White Ration Card (which indicates families living below the poverty line) in the Mozabad Gram Panchayat which entitles the bearer to 35 kgs of subsidised grain along with other basic necessities like sugar and kerosene. But every month for over 15 years, these families have been receiving only 2 kilos of kerosene and nothing else.

Most of these households live in utter poverty. The only work available is low paying manual labour. Income is irregular and seasonal. Families can barely put food on the table. There is little money left over for the education of their children or buying clothes to wear.

The concerned authorities say that they have not been receiving supplies. But the villagers suspect that there is massive corruption afoot and that the supplies are being sold in the black market.

They fear that they will incur the wrath of the “higher” caste authorities if they dare to speak out. They are afraid of being threatened, humiliated and violated. Over the years, they have been witnesses of many such incidents. But today, with her community video, Suneela has broken years of silence and taken the first step towards change.

Community Correspondent says: The multi-coloured ration card system which is an indicator of the economic vulnerability of the household was a system introduced the government in 1997 admittedly to focus on some of the most poor and vulnerable citizens of the country. Critics have long pointed out the shortcomings of the system beginning with the government’s flawed assessment of levels of poverty to the faulty and corrupt distribution system where huge amounts of grain is either sold on the black market or spoilt in warehouses. The state of Uttar Pradesh is also currently embroiled in a food scam where food grains worth Rs. 35,000 crores were illegally diverted to the open market. But when Suneela speaks she gives her personal account of this wretched scenario from the grassroots.

“The holders of white ration cards do not earn enough to have two full meals a day. I am an NGO worker. My husband is a security guard. Our salaries are the lower end of the scale. If we have two full meals a day, we cannot save enough. Our meals are sparse. 35 kgs of grain can go a long way in improving our way of life. And we are one of the better off families in the village. The others don’t have steady jobs like we do. Most nights, they go to bed on an empty stomach.”

Call to Action: Suneela asks the viewers to help her and her village get their due rations by exerting pressuring on the Ration Officer at 09415183099

This is Suneela’s first video. We asked her about her experience.

“I decided that my first video is going to be on the subject most immediate to me. If you cannot put food on the table, what else can you do? It is your primary need.”

“The first time I went out with the camera into my community, I almost gave up on the video. The people just refused to speak. It was almost like the camera alienated me. They were asking me what it was for. What I was going to do with the footage?”

“They were worried that speaking out would get them in trouble. The ration officers are a truly unsavoury bunch. No one wanted to confront them.”

“The PDS is just one of the issues facing my community. There are many land issues and human rights issues in which we are being oppressed by the “higher” castes. I asked my community how they were planning to fight these fights. Were they going to be silent? I gave them the example of what happened in the nearby village where the dalits had remained silent against the oppression. Over the years, they lost everything that belonged to them - Their houses, their land, their livelihoods. They are now destitute. I asked my people if that was the future they had planned for themselves.”

“Gradually they began to open up. One by one, every person was speaking out in front of the camera. One of the problems that my community faced was that against our own issues we had a lack of unity. But in the eyes of the camera, my people were united.”

“Yes, they were speaking as themselves but most importantly, they were speaking together, as a community.”

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