Rajasthan Minister of State for Khadi and Villages Industries Golma Devi started a “fast unto death” near the Civil Lines railway crossing here on Tuesday protesting against “apathy” of her own government towards the demands raised by her husband Kirorilal Meena, the Member of Parliament from Dausa. Both Ms. Golma Devi and Dr. Meena have been sitting at the same spot on dharna since this past Thursday.

Female workers of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) who were allegedly manhandled by the police the previous day while demonstrating in support of their demands joined Ms. Golma Devi on a relay fast on Tuesday. After two attempts at negotiations -- through talks carried out with the protesting couple on the first night of the dharna and again on Sunday -- by Energy Minster Jitendra Singh and Tourism Minister Bina Kak, the Government did not make any fresh move to placate the couple even after the Minister's latest move.

Prior to the commencement of the fast, Ms. Golma Devi sent a letter addressed to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot pointing out that she and her husband had been waiting for a response and “there was no word from him”. The letter said that the Ministers had given the impression that their (the couple's) demands were acceptable and the Government would soon approach them though this did not happen. “As there has been no response from you, I am starting a hunger strike”, she said.

The resignation letter of the Minister, an Independent MLA, is reportedly pending with Congress president Sonia Gandhi since November 2009 though no one in the State has confirmed the existence of such a letter. Two days ago Ms. Golma Devi returned her official car.

The initial provocation for Dr. Meena to resort to a visible protest of this kind was his arrest and removal from Udaipur town last week by the district administration. Dr. Meena, who was carrying two truckloads of wheat flour for distribution among the Adivasi population there, has alleged starvation deaths in the area.

“The Government is willing to accept the rest of the demands except the one for a solatium of Rs.5 lakh each to the families of those who died of hunger. The Government seems to be in a predicament. If it agrees to pay, it would be accepting that starvation deaths took place,” Dr .Meena said talking to The Hindu at the dharna site.