THE Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) states that United Nations Children'sFund (Unicef) in India is not interested to discuss the deaths among children forced to live in appalling conditions in the suburbs of greater Kolkata.
The Unicef staff refused to meet representatives of the Hong Kong-based AHRC and Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (Masum), a human rights group based in Howrah, greater Kolkata, and to talk about the thousands of persons, including children, forcibly evicted from their houses in Bellilious Park in February 2003.
The community of roughly 7,000 Dalits, the so-called ?untouchables?, has since been forced to live in conditions that the AHRC described as ?subhuman?.
?Despite prior arrangement, when we arrived at the Unicef office, we were told that no staff wanted to talk about the sufferings of these children,? said Nick Cheesman, projects officer of AHRC.
?That Unicef staff are not even interested to discuss child deaths occurring on their doorstep-let alone do anything about them-this is hard to comprehend,? he added.
?While Unicef boasts of large programmes in rural areas of West Bengal, it has nothing to offer children suffering from absolute poverty just a few miles from its premises,? continued Cheesman. ?It is a tragic irony,? he added.
The Howrah Municipal Corporation earlier informed the AHRC and Masum that Unicef had raised concern over the plight of the evicted persons.
Representatives of the two organisations met the Mayor and Commissioner of Howrah on February 10.
They were accompanied by a group of about 50 evictees, including children, most of whom were refused access to the government offices.
?The Mayor and Commissioner contradicted both themselves and each other so many times that I have lost count,? Cheesman said.
?Clearly, they have no intention of doing anything to rehabilitate these persons whom they have brutalised.?
The Commissioner said that they had informed the National Human Rights Commission of India to the same effect.
Earlier in the week, the AHRC and Masum met the chairman of the Indian Red Cross, who also reiterated that he was not prepared to do anything to help.
?Everyone whom we have visited has an excuse for doing nothing,? said Kirity Roy, secretary of Masum.
?After thousands of years, Dalits are still irrelevant to the ruling elite here.?
?But it is deeply disappointing to find that international agencies like Unicef and Red Cross are equally callous in their disregard for these people,? he observed.
?We have concluded that Unicef does not care whether the children live or die,? Roy said.
The AHRC documented the starvation death of three-year-old E.M. Shiva, a child evictee from the site, in the July 2004 edition of its bimonthly publication, Human Rights Solidarity (Vol. 14, No. 4).
Other children are reported to have died as a result of the outrageous conditions in which they have since been forced to subsist. No government or international agencies have as yet sought to avert further deaths, or address the grinding poverty and malnutrition that affect the evicted persons. (AHRC)