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Indian police detain Belgian-born economist and social activist


Jean Dreze
Jean Dreze

POLICE in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand detained Belgian-born economist and social activist Jean Dreze for participating in a public meeting on food security organised by a village self-help group, Dreze and authorities said on Thursday (28).

Local authorities said Dreze and two other activists were detained because they didn’t have the permission to organise the meeting.

“Dreze and others were released after some initial questioning,” Harsh Mangla, deputy commissioner of Jharkhand’s Garhwa district, told Reuters by telephone.

Dreze, who has co-authored books on hunger with Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, said the organisers had put in a request 10 days ago but authorities neither denied nor granted permission for the meeting.

The meeting was organised to help guide the poor access subsidised food supplied by the government.

“The meetings organised by various village self-help groups and other voluntary bodies play a crucial role in ensuring food security for Jharkhand’s poor people,” Dreze said.

Late last year, Reuters reported that at least 14 people had died of starvation in Jharkhand, one of the most underdeveloped and poverty-stricken states of India.

Activists said the deaths had occurred since authorities cancelled old handwritten government ration cards and replaced them with the biometric Aadhaar card to weed out bogus beneficiaries.

Opposition parties have highlighted the issue of starvation deaths in Jharkhand, a predominantly tribal state, ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

Opposition politicians and social activists, who often accuse Modi’s government of trying to muzzle free speech and cracking down on dissent, took to Twitter to criticise the detention of Dreze.

In Jharkhand, subsidised grains and old-age pensions can be the difference between life and death, said Dreze, who currently lives and teaches at a university in Ranchi, the state capital.