A 45-year-old woman and her five children are in hospital in western Uttar Pradesh's Aligarh town after battling intense hunger for over two months. They were able to get medical help after a local NGO stepped in to help after it was informed of the family's condition.The family members had neither a ration card nor Aadhar cards, with a senior Aligarh official expressing "surprise" and saying he had ordered a probe.
Guddi, whose husband died last year during the lockdown imposed due to the first wave of the Covid pandemic, and her family are very weak and unable to walk, said doctors who attended to them on Wednesday at the Aligarh district hospital.
Her eldest child is 20, a mason, and is the sole earning member of the family. He lost his job during the second wave of the pandemic this year.
"We are giving them porridge and other nutritious food. But there is nothing to worry. They will recover," Dr Amit, the emergency ward in-charge at the hospital, told reporters.
Visuals from the hospital ward where the family is admitted showed one of Guddi's children, a young boy eating an apple, with NGO workers, doctors and the media looking on. Another clip shot by local journalists showed a slightly older boy taking off his shirt to show an extremely brittle body with bones jutting out from the flesh. A third clip showed a girl with a drip on her hands through which glucose was being administered.
"There was nothing at home. It has been the case for three months. Hunger and disease both affected us. We used to go to our neighbours to ask for food, but they said they can feed us for a day or two, but that they cannot feed us everyday. Then we stopped asking," Guddi said when asked about how the family had come to this state.
The woman said she had approached village-level authorities for help. "I went to the Pradhan (village head). He said he can't do anything. I even asked for just Rs. 100 rupees. He said he doesn't have Rs. 100. We went to the dealer (ration shop owner) and asked him to give us just 5 kg rice. He said he can't. Where should I have gone? You tell me," Guddi said.
Aligarh's district magistrate, Chandra Bhushan Singh, said he found it surprising the family did not have a ration card or even an Aadhar card. He said the family may not have made the effort to get either. "Yes, because their income sources had dried up, they were facing hunger issues. They got in touch with the Pradhan and the ration shop owner, but they say no food items were given to them. We will take action. We have provided Rs. 5,000 to them and their Antyodaya card has been generated offline." He said an Aadhaar card and a bank account are being created.
"It is very surprising. The family never tried to get their ration card or Aadhar card made. I think they did not try to get it made. We have covered 74 per cent of our rural population. Why their ration card was not made is a matter of investigation," Mr Singh said in an interview.
When asked why she did not have an Aaadhar card or a ration card, the woman claimed she had applied for both through a local agent before the pandemic began and that she even paid Rs. 350 rupees. The woman said the agent later refused to the process her request or help after she had lost her SIM card. A working mobile number is essential for an Aadhar card.