A tribal woman, reportedly unable to cope with extreme property accentuated by the coronavirus crisis, hanged her three-year-old daughter from the same tree from which she later hung herself to death in Maharashtra's Palghar district, around 150km from Mumbai.
The committee set up by the Maharashtra Chief Minister to investigate the deaths of Mangala Dilip Wagh and her daughter has submitted its report to the government.
Head of Investigation Committee Vivek Pandit, who works with tribal communities in the area and holds the rank of Minister of State, told NDTV that he had visited Palghar and has never seen such deprivation before.
"Now it will be debated whether it is a starvation death or there is some other reason. The Chief Minister has set up a committee to investigate and I am not going into to the details as I am the head of the committee appointed by the Chief Minister and I have submitted my report," he said.
"I can tell you that I have been there and seen the papers that were given to me by the revenue officials; it is clear that the poverty there is extreme. What else can you say about a person who has to borrow Rs 1,000 from neighbours to carry the corpses? There is extreme poverty among the Katkari tribe and the Covid situation has made it worse. The government must act," he said.
The tribal areas of Palghar district are extremely impoverished and have reported severe malnutrition for decades. The problem persists despite repeated government interventions but some progress has been made over the years.
Most of the area's tribal population here don't own land and work as daily wage workers in nearby industrial areas, such as Bhiwandi and Vasai, where businesses have been impacted by the coronavirus lockdown.
When NDTV visited the home of 35-year-old Dilip Wagh in Kadvyachimali village of Jawahar taluka in Palghar district, we found that the family had barely enough food and no money to buy vegetables or cooking oil.
They foraged herbs from the forest for meals and used the oil extracted after drying and crushing seeds from the Mahua tree for cooking. During the lockdown, the family was surviving on government rations.
Most of the homes in the area don't have gas connections and depend on firewood stoves for cooking meals.
The hunt for Ms Mangala started on June 22 after Mr Wagh came home and his elder daughter about her mother's whereabouts. When the 7-year-old said she didn't know, he waited a few hours before setting out to look for his wife.
Mr Wagh searched all evening on June 22, the next day and the day after, when a boy from another locality showed him pictures of a woman and a small child found hanging from a tree.
According to his statement to the police, Mr Wagh identified the woman and child as his wife and daughter and went back home.
In the police FIR, Mr Wagh has said, "After I saw the photo I went back home and my cousin called me at that time and told me that my wife and daughter had died by suicide and their bodies has been taken to the government hospital. I then went to the hospital and saw their bodies."
"My wife was distressed due to our poverty and she took my younger daughter with her and killed herself after killing my daughter," the statement read.
"We had no money and the food we had wasn't enough for all of us," Mr Wagh told NDTV.
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