The Supreme Court verdict to compensate tribes people suffering from silicosis in western Madhya Pradesh may have brought relief but two tribal women who have been working tirelessly for the rights of people affected with the deadly disease, the fight is far from over.
Though their own health is deteriorating, the two women have devoted their remaining life for the fight against silicosis– a deadly disease that leads to slow degradation of lung tissues following long exposure to silica dust.
Hundreds of tribes people and impoverished farmers from Jhabua, Alirajpur and Dhar districts migrate to Gujarat to work in quartz factories.
In 2009, the Supreme Court directed the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to ensure relief to the next of kin of 238 people who died due to silicosis.
In November 2010, the NHRC asked the Madhya Pradesh government to rehabilitate 304 silicosis-affected people in the state. It also asked the Gujarat government to compensate kin of the 238 migrant workers from MP.
The state government challenged the directive.
On May 5, the top court passed an order asking the Gujarat government to pay compensation to 238 deceased workers who died of silicosis within a month and directed the Madhya Pradesh government to rehabilitate another 304 ailing patients.
Meet Jamudi Bai (55) and Madhvi Bheel (34).
Madhvi Bheel lost two brothers to the disease
Madhvi Bheel lost two brothers to the disease and now lives in a small hut in Dhar’s Balvani village with her aged parents. She along with her two brothers went to Gujarat to work in a factory in 2003 and got affected with the disease.
“My only aim is to help the silicosis-affected families of my area and in my village itself 23 people died and four are on their death bed,” Madhavi tells HT.
“I travel to neighbouring villages and tell people not to migrate to Gujarat to work in quartz factories and help them get medicines,” she says.
‘Most tribes people now avoid going to Gujarat’
She further says that most tribes people now avoid going to Gujarat as they are aware of the dangers of working in quartz factories and the awareness campaign started by her but for people who died and are ill, the compensation will be a boon. “I myself am suffering from silicosis and it is difficult for me to move around and help others”, she says.
Jamudi Bai, who lives about 100 km north of Madhavi Bheel’s village, in Jhabua’s Runkheda, also works for the same cause.
“I have devoted my life for people suffering from silicosis in my area and cover more than 50 villages and help them with their treatment and get them government facilities.
“Until now people who died of the disease have not been compensated by the government. I have heard that compensation will be given and it is relief for us but my responsibility increases,” says Jamudi Bai, who lost her husband and three members of her family to silicosis.
Jamudi Bai walks more than 30 km every day to meet people suffering from the disease
Though she is suffering for silicosis Jamudi Bai walks more than 30 km every day to meet people suffering from the disease in the tribal dominated district. “The medicines given by the government have no effect and people don’t have money to go to private doctors,” she says. “Compensation from the government will help.”
Jamudi Bai, who usually moves around with her granddaughter, says she has organized a number of protests in the district for the rights of silicosis patients at district headquarters and keeps health records of every patient in the area. She went to Gujarat to work in a quartz factory in 2001 along with her husband and others and returned with the deadly disease.
“As per our latest study there are 1,701 silicosis-affected people in 103 villages in western Madhya Pradesh, out of which the Supreme Court ordered to compensate 542,” says Amulya Nidhi of Swasthy Adhikar Manch, a network of healthcare organisations in Madhya Pradesh.
“Our fight is still on and for the rest of 1,158 patients we have submitted a report to the Supreme Court, National Human Rights Commission and the state government,” says Nidhi, who also works with Silicosis Peedit Sangh. “Many dharanas and protests have been organised for the rights of silicosis patients of my area at district headquarters. I keep a record of health of each and every patient in my area,” she added.
The Supreme Court on May 5 passed an order asking the Gujarat govt to pay compensation within a month to kin of 238 workers who died due to silicosis
It asked the Madhya Pradesh government to rehabilitate another 304 ailing patients
As per a latest study, there are 1,701 patients of 103 village out of which SC ordered to compensate 542
For the rest of 1,158, a report has been submitted to SC, NHRC and state government.