Orphaned by toxic liquor, neglected by government

Orphaned by toxic liquor, neglected by government

Only two of the 41 children have been taken to a special children home

Eleven-year-old Debu does not allow his two younger brothers--Dilip and Goutam to separate since they lost their parents to toxic liquor on February 21.

Eleven-year-old Debu does not allow his two younger brothers--Dilip and Goutam to separate since they lost their parents to toxic liquor on February 21.

Their father Debari Pujhor and mother Sunita, are among the 48 workers in this tea estate in eastern Assam, who died after consuming toxic liquor, to celebrate the birth of a neighbour’s child.

“He keeps holding their hands and shouts if one of them moves out alone,” his uncle Subhash told DH, stating that the three were traumatised since they became orphans. The three left their home and now stays with their uncle in the neighbouring Namghar labour colony. “Where will I send them?” Subhash asked.

Only two of the 41 children---34 in Golaghat and 9 in neighbouring Jorhat district—most belonging to tea garden workers have been taken to special children home by Golaghat district administration. The rest have literally been left in a lurch in their homes. Some are living with their relatives, some with the neighbours and some are struggling to manage food in their homes.

As the death toll touched 158, Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal announced ex-gratia of Rs. 2 lakh to the kin of each of the deceased and take care of the children as per the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection) Act 2015. Neither the ex-gratia has been handed over or the children shifted to children homes even after two weeks. The children either lost both their parents in the hooch tragedy or one of their parents had died earlier.

“No government persons have visited them yet. The labour club is providing them food since the incident,” said Lalit Orang, a student leader in the garden having over 1,500 workers.

“We are planning to shift those who are below six-year a home in Bengenakhowa (Golaghat) and those above six to another child home in Bokakhat. We are also discussing to open bank accounts in the children’s names and deposit the ex-gratia. We are trying to work out a system to ensure that they can withdraw the money after they turn 18 so that no one can take the money in the name of taking care,” said Lukumoni Goswami, chairperson of child welfare committee, Golaghat.

Abinash, 10, who lost his father Ajoy Pujhor in the hooch tragedy came rushing from their home hoping someone came with food. “The rice we had has almost exhausted,” he said. His mother Rupali had eloped with another man about six months ago. When asked who cooks for all his four brothers, he said, “I do.”

Child rights activists said such children should have been provided psychological support immediately after their parents died to avoid adverse impact on their mind in the future. 

“Such children are very much vulnerable to neglect and exploitation. They are forced out of school by their caregivers (relative), some become child labour, married off early or falls victim of trafficking. We can think about foster care or sponsorship, where the children live with a family and the government supports them,” said Adolescent and Child Rights Network, Assam, a forum of NGOs, in their letter to Golaghat district administration.