A mother and her two children have died within a week in Uttar Pradesh's Kushinagar, allegedly of hunger and malnutrition. The government has officially recorded diarrhea and food poisoning as the cause of the deaths, but villagers tell a different story.
The family belongs to the extremely poor Musahars, listed as Scheduled Castes.
30-year-old Sangeeta and her eight-year-old son Suraj died on September 7.
Sangeeta's husband Virendra, 35, is a daily wager. He said mother and son started vomiting around 7 am that day. When their condition worsened, Virendra called a government ambulance and managed to take them to a hospital by 10 am.
Doctors first admitted both Sangeeta and Suraj, but later referred them to a larger district hospital in Padrauna. Both of them died in the ambulance, on the way.
Sangeeta's fifth and youngest child - two-month-old geeta, died five days later, on Tuesday. She was being fed formula milk by women in the village.
Reports say social workers had requested village level government health workers to take the baby to a nutrition centre - but no one reacted. The baby was finally admitted to the district hospital on Monday.
In a tragic irony, the deaths have taken place as the Uttar Pradesh government marks "national nutrition month".
The district administration in Kushinagar says the family was poor but insists hunger was not the reason for the deaths. "You can't deny they were poor. But there are other poor people in this village. They died because they were not following a proper diet," said Hari Narayan Singh, Chief Medical Officer of the district.
Visuals from the village and the family's home on September 7 tell a story of extreme poverty. The family had a ration card but there seems to be no trace of any food in the one-room house.
"We have no grain in the house. I haven't eaten all day today. I have a MNREGA job card but I have not got any work in the last year," said Virender, who survives on his earnings from odd jobs.
"They got ration last month. This month's ration had not been distributed. There is no doubt that the family is very poor," said Dinesh Verma, the village pradhan or chief.
Uttar Pradesh is among the worst affected by malnutrition in the country and there have been multiple reports of hunger deaths in the past too. But the state government has denied them saying they are trying to ensure subsidised foodgrain, especially for the poor, without any leaks.
In August, the Uttar Pradesh government admitted to a scam worth crores in which food grain meant for the poor under the Public Distribution Scheme (PDS) was being diverted to the open market by ration shop owners and officials. Aadhaar numbers of genuine beneficiaries were replaced with those of imposters, said officials.
The government said subsidised grain worth Rs 30 crore has been diverted to the open market in the last three months through Rs 1.86 lakh fraud transactions.