BONITA Podh was the face of the famine in 1986-87. When the nation watched J.B. Patnaik, the chief minister of Orissa, fumbling for words as he explained to Rajiv Gandhi that a disraught woman from the area, Phanas Punji, was saying that she had sold her 15-year-old sister-in-law Bonita to a blind man for Rs 40, so that she and her husband could eat. Ten years later, J.B. Patnaik is once again the chief minister. And the drought has come to Orissa again. But what of Bonita?
She is still married to that blind man who thrashes her regularly, and has borne him four children. She is 25, now. And planning on leaving her husbands village in Bolangir in search of work. Along with her four children. "I think the drought this year will be worse than what it was when I was sold. My husband fights with me and because he is blind cannot work. I just cannot manage to feed myself and my children," she says.
All she has to show for having pricked the conscience of the nation is the Rs 200 a month job as an anganwadi helper that was given to her after Rajiv Gandhis visit. And then she was forgotten. They have no land to till. So, she has been living on credit for the past few years and owes the money-lenders Rs 1000. On which she pays a monthly interest of Rs 20. As to how she will pay back the principal amount, Bonita has no idea.
This is what happened to a victim of the drought of 1986-87. When we caught up with her, Bonita was headed for the helipad where prime minister Deve Gowda was scheduled to land, to find out whether the treatment meted out to the victims will be different this time around.