see also Letter Action 2


Action Highlights- Letter Campaign Action 1

FIAN letter campaign from 2005 - Asia
Highlight Action 1: Starvation deaths in Varanasi District, U.P., India

One woman and two of her children died in village Shankarpur, Varanasi, due to starvation and hunger related diseases. Mrs. Jigna Devi Vishambhar died on 16th of April, 2005, her 16 years old daughter named Soni died on 21st of April, and on 21st of May the two-month old son died. The family was without any source of income, since Mr. Vishambhar lost his job as a weaver. Another weaver Mr. Kanhaiya died on 18th of September 2005 also due to starvation. However, the Vishambhar and Kanhaiya families were not identified as beneficiaries of subsidised food grains from the state social programmes. This is the plight faced by 400 other weaver families in village Shankarpur, of district Varanasi. Despite of a previous FIAN action on the case, the Vishambhar and other weaver families do not have the AAY (Anthyodaya Anna Yojana Scheme) card, continue to be excluded from the social programmes, face starvation and are reduced to begging for food.


After agriculture, weaving is the lifeline in the eastern part of Uttar Pradesh. There are an estimated 5 lakh (0.5 million) weavers in the district of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh. The weavers are mostly Dalits and face discriminated in society. As a result of a slowdown in the weaving industry since the last four to five years, many weavers have lost their jobs, and are barely surviving due to lack of other income. Not all have been able to find an alternative means of livelihood and source to feed themselves. They depend mainly on the public distribution system (PDS) for their survival.

The public distribution system in India is made up of ration shops across the country through which grains, sugar, cooking oil and so on are sold at subsidized rates. Depending on the type of card allotted, a family is entitled to subsidised items from the ration shops. Persons below the poverty line can get a BPL (Below Poverty Line) card. The poorest among the BPL families are entitled to "red cards" for the AAY (Anthyodaya Anna Yojana Scheme), which entitles them to highly subsidized rates of wheat and rice. The process of identifying the poor is flawed as many times the poorest do not get identified as AAY recipients. 

The Vishambhar family has no land or other source of income. Mr. Vishambhar's efforts to get food for the family through weaving did not succeed. Jigna Devi Vishmabhar secured some land. However due to the infertility of the land her efforts to access food for the family failed. Despite being poor, the family does not have a red ration card under the AAY. Due to lack of income and food, Jigna Devi Vishambhar and two of her children - aged two months and sixteen years, died of starvation. Similarly another weaver named Kanhaiya died of starvation. Sheila Kanhaiya and her three children have been reduced to begging and are on the verge of starvation. This is the plight faced by other weaver families in village Shankarpur.

FIAN launched an international urgent action on the case due to which the Vishambhar family received some food-grains. The authorities maintain that they also issued the AAY "red card" to Vishambhar. Mr. Vishambhar, however, maintains that he still does not have AAY card entitling his family to subsidised foodgrains. On August 22, 2005 FIAN India organized a round table meeting with Mr. Jean Ziegler, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, in the Indian capital city of New Delhi, with FIAN participants from different parts of the country and members from other organizations and networks. During this meeting Mr. Vishambhar informed Mr. Ziegler about the grave situation faced by the weavers including the deaths due to starvation. 

Unless access to food is guaranteed to the weaver families of village Shankarpur, they will continue to face imminent starvation. The failure of the state programmes has threatened the physical survival of weaver families like Vishambhar and Kanhaiya, and amounts to a gross violation of their human right to food. Many weaver families in the village are still excluded from social programmes. Under the human right to food, states are obliged to guarantee a minimum food income. The design of the respective schemes in India should be reconsidered and targeting errors of the administration should be persecuted. 

FIAN Mandate

India is a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Therefore it is duty- bound under international law to fulfil its people's right to feed themselves. By not admitting the Vishambhar family and the Kanhaiya family to any programme meant to fulfil their right to food, the state of Uttar Pradesh and hence India violated this right and its international obligations under the Covenant 


An action on the situation of the weavers is urgently needed to fulfil the right to food of the Vishambhar and Kanhaiya family and 400 weaver families of village Shankarpur, facing hunger and starvation, and to prevent further starvation deaths. 

Please write polite letters to the Prime Minister of India, requesting him to meet the obligations under the human right to food and guarantee access to food to the weaver families of Shankarpur in district Varanasi. 

Recipients of letter:

Dr. Manmohan Singh 
The Prime Minister of India
South Block, Room No. 152,
New Delhi- 110001, India

Sonia Gandhi,
Chairman, India National Congress
10, Janpath, New Delhi - 110 011, India

English translation of the letter

Honourable Mr. Prime Minister,

Recently I received the alarming news of the situation of the weaver families of Varanasi, who are facing hunger and imminent starvation. In April and May this year three starvation deaths were reported from the Vishambhar family of village Shankarpur in district Varanasi. Mr. Kanhaiya from the same village also died due to hunger and around 400 other weaver families mostly Dalits from the village Shankarpur face hunger and starvation. Mr. Vishambhar lost his job as a weaver and has been unemployed due to the slowdown in the market for the last four years. Without land or other source of income the Vishambhar and Kanhaiya family faced hunger and malnutrition. Despite this they were not identified as the poorest among poor to be issued with a red ration card, entitling them to receive food grains at highly subsidised rates. This resulted in the untimely deaths due to starvation. Many of the weavers have to resort to begging in order to feed themselves.

After several media reports and protests on the case, the administration gave the Vishambhar family some meagre ration and also maintains to have given Mr. Vishambhar the AAY (Anthyodaya Anna Yojana Scheme) "red ration" card. However, in reality Mr. Vishambhar still does not have the red card and the family continues to face hunger and starvation. Giving meagre rations to the family is by no means sufficient as it cannot replace guaranteed cash transfers and/or employment guarantee programmes and they will continue facing imminent death for want of food. Other weaver families of Shankarpur like the Kanhaiya family also face similar plight. Recently, Mr. Vishambhar had the chance to present the plight faced by the weavers to Mr. Jean Ziegler, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food during his mission to India.

As a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights India and therefore Uttar Pradesh is duty-bound under international law to fulfil its people's right to feed themselves. As a person working internationally for the implementation of the economic, social and cultural rights I would like to ask you to:-

1. Ensure that the Vishambhar and Kanhaiya family and others in similar situations are identified under the AAY, and given their red card so that they can fully benefit from any programmes introduced to fulfil their right to food.

2. Order an investigation to find out why Jigna Devi Vishambhar, her children and Sheela Kanhaiya and many others were not identified for available programmes and make sure that such targeting errors - which spell death to the victims - will not recur in the future.

3. Take the necessary steps to address the hunger and starvation situation of the 400 weaver families of Shankarpur village in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh.

Please keep me informed of the action you plan to take in this regard. 

Yours sincerely.

see also Letter Action 2

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