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Fact Check: Did Musahar community in Varanasi eat grass out of sheer hunger?

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The headline used Jan Sandesh Times that the Musahar community in Varanasi was forced to eat grass out of sheer hunger was an over-exaggeration as the green pulses are edible.

Amid 21-day lockdown announced by PM Narendra Modi, a picture that was firstly published by Jan Sandesh Times on March 25, is being widely circulated on social media. A Facebook page Inquilab India shared the image with a message written on it saying, "Out of sheer desperation and anger, children from Musahar community are seen eating grass in Koiripur, Varanasi, UP. And their MP is PM Modi. This is the state of affairs in Prime Minister's constituency."

Another Facebook user named Bramhadev Paswan shared the screenshot of the news report by Jansandesh Times with a caption that can be roughly translated to, "There is an appeal to the government to immediately arrange food for poor people so that they are not forced to eat grass."

The report was covered by Vijay Vineet who wrote that members of the Musahar community are eating grass in villages around the prime minister’s parliamentary constituency Varanasi accompanied by pictures of children eating grass. This was shared widely on social media inviting criticism of the government. The report was titled ‘Banaras ke Koeripur me ghas kha rahe Musahar (Musahars eating grass in Varanai’s Koeripur)’

According to the report, Rani, Pooja, Vishal, Neerhu, Soni and Golu are the six kids, aged between five to six years. 

Samajwadi party also targetted the UP government by sharing this report on Twitter saying, "People from the Mushar community are forced to eat grass in Banaras! Sanitizer and masks are far off, even soap is not available for washing hands. Its an appeal to the government to make these essential items available to the Mushar community. 

Counter Arguments by Administration

The local administration presented a different picture by claiming that the children photographed for the story were actually eating pulse, not grass. The district magistrate (DM) issued a notice to the author of the report, asking for clarification within 24 hours.  The notice says "It is clear that the reporter associated with Janasandesh Time by describing the consumption of “akhri daal” as grass-eating is a gross attempt by him to cast aspersions on the Musahar community and spread misinformation among the masses at a critical time. I had sent you a Whatsapp message at 1:30 AM denouncing this baseless report but you still went ahead to publish the misleading article on the front page."

By closely looking at the image published in the paper, one can spot this girl trying to take out something from the bush.

DM Kaushal Raj Sharma further tweeted "Me and my son eating Akhari daal jise Vardarajan ji aur Jan Sandesh Times Ghas batate hain." 

Varanasi DM Kaushal Raj Sharma with his son

A popular Hindi news daily 'Dainik Bhaskar' also published a report on March 27 suggesting that after inquiry it was revealed that children were eating a special kind of pulse grown in that area, popularly known as “akhri daal”, and not grass. 

Conclusion: If we look at both sides of the incident, it is clear that the headline used Jan Sandesh Times was an over-exaggeration as the green pulses are edible.

However, Covid-19 lockdown has robbed daily wagers of their daily income. They said they have no food to feed them and their families. Many workers also wish to leave city, but are left stranded, as the railway and bus services have been suspended in light of the pandemic.

On the other hand, the central government and various states government has announced several relief packages for these daily wages workers and poor.

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