'We are staring at hunger deaths'

'We are staring at hunger deaths'

Zingkeulak, 55, dreads the rainy season as that will cut off Tousem, where he lives in the hills of Manipur, from the rest of this northeastern state and all the dirt tracks would turn into muddy swamps.

Rains will mean a slippery and difficult climb downhill for Zingkeulak, a farmer from Tousem subdivision, with his head load of oranges and bananas to sell in the district headquarters of Tamenglong, 50 km away. And it will be even more tough to carry the sack of rice on his back all the way home.

The people of Tousem are hoping the administration will provide them enough food. They lost all their crop to rodents in November last year.

"We are hoping to get assistance from the state government. If It does not come before the rainy season we will likely see hunger deaths," Zingkeulak who depends on jhum cultivation, said.

"We can last only till before the start of rainy season. It takes us one entire day to reach Tamenglong. But how will we be able to carry rice sacks on our back in the rainy season," the farmer told this visiting IANS correspondent.

Despite being located just 50 km away from Tamenglong, Tousem, which borders Assam, can be reached only after a harrowing journey of five hours - crossing a river and a drive on unmotorable tracks. Though a pretty picture, nestled in the hills of Manipur, Tousem subdivision is one of the country's most backward districts, according to government data.

The 27,000 residents, spread across 63 villages of the subdivision, have only two Primary Health Centres to cater to them, including one run by a Bangalore-based NGO. "The government backed out of running one primary health centre," said a local.

Locals say there is only one retired MBBS doctor to run this centre where till a year ago the watchman doubled up as the medic since the doctor would come once in a month.

"The government doctor would never come here earlier. Ever since the Karuna Trust has taken over this health centre, there is one MBBS doctor. The watchman used to give us medicines, and sometimes even injections," said Luke another resident of Tousem.

The women prefer delivering babies at home than going to institutions. According to the chart hung on the wall of the PHC, in December last year 18 pregnant women delivered at their homes and there were no institutional deliveries that month.
"No woman wants to go to the PHC as there have been mishaps due to lack of facilities and untrained staff . Women prefer delivering at home," Poutingliu, an Accredited Social Health Activist, said.

"In the past five years five pregnant women have died. If any complication arises during labour, the woman has to be taken to Tamenglong on bamboo stretchers. It takes one day to reach there and chances of her survival become less as she has to be ferried on the shoulders with no ambulance around," Poutingliu told IANS.

Tousem subdivision also lacks a secondary school, despite the Right to Education Act which enshrines free and compulsory education for all children between the ages of six and 14 in the country.

"Most of the state government teachers who teach in primary schools live in Imphal while a few of them are studying in Delhi University. Those who come mark their attendance once or twice in a month," said Iram, a member of non government organisation World Vision which is helping people here.

The village panchayat has appointed a committee to employ locals to impart education to the children.

Tousem has quite a few primary schools - till Classes 3 or 5. One primary school the IANS correspondent visited was in a ramshackle condition - made of straw matting with no blackboard in one of the classrooms.

"On paper, there are primary schools but these are nonfunctional due to the non availability of teachers and the infrastructure is also in shambles," added Iram.
"Though I belong to this village of Manipur, I teach at a primary school in Assam. The reason is the demand for donations to get appointed as a primary teacher, which I cannot afford," Adin, 28, told IANS.

A total of 2,500 farmers have sought government aid in the form of food since rodents have destroyed their crop.

"It is also okay even if the government does not send us aid. The least we expect is roads. Just give us roads," said Iram who hoped his regions neglect would be addressed by the government at the centre.

But all is not just melancholy. Villagers see a glimmer of hope in the young sub divisional officer Armstrong Pame, 28, who is helping the people. He is also helping construct a 100 km-of road  that would link Manipur with Nagaland and Assam.  The locals are all praise for him.

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