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September 24, 2006
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Rural Economy
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The Moving Finger Writes

September 24, 2006

Page: 27/43

Home > 2006 Issues > September 24, 2006

By Kamal Wadhwa

It is indeed a cruel irony that despite India?s advent into the twenty-first century, millions of Indians still do not have access to a proper diet. Although India is producing state-of-the-art jet fighter aircraft, has designed and built its own civilian nuclear reactors and made remarkable progress in the domain of education, it still has not attained the ability to ensure a steady supply of nutritious foodstuffs to enable people to cast off the centuries-old debility and indisposition afflicting them.

Simply put, India has too many fetishes and complexes in relation to food so that no one can look at the problem of malnutrition dispassionately and without fear. It seems there is a stigma and a social taboo associated with the consumption of food, which goes back to the socialist era. Even to this day, millions of office-goers who commute to work do so with barely a single cup of tea to supply energy for the morning. Similarly, millions of school children as yet have no access to milk and must subsist on cheap food grains that have little protein to nourish their growing bodies. Does it therefore come as a surprise that the level of national intelligence is abysmally low so that even our finest engineers can do nothing practical but must limit themselves to office correspondence? Similarly, Indian technology and manufactures are inferior in quality to those of comparable countries. Why? Simply because no one eats well in India despite the fact that every one is obsessed with food and food rituals. This leads to loss of creativity in work and a lower level of intelligence.

India by now has become one of the world?s largest producers of milk and eggs. Yet there is no mass consumption of these food articles since they are still considered to be luxuries and have not found their way into the public distribution system. As a consequence, they are exported in large quantities at nearly throwaway prices.

Poverty becomes a bearable condition of life when there is sufficient nutritious food available to the mass of people. Yet this seems to be a distant goal despite our many other achievements. India has yet to become an economic democracy where there is sufficient wherewithal to purchase quality food for everyone. In the present dispensation, access to good food is a privilege of the few.

Indians are inclined to ape western culture in its entirety except their food habits. This is a serious flaw. In India, people scrimp and save on their food expenses only to fritter away such savings on purchasing costly goods that are examples of conspicuous consumption. This is a short-sighted and depraved way of living life. All our religious traditions tell us that the body is sacred and houses man?s soul. Therefore, it must be cared for well. Nothing shows more care for the body than a proper diet that is healthy and affordable.

Consumption of food brings contentment and peace of mind. There can be no human happiness without food intake. Eating food promotes human well-being and longevity. Most Indians have witnessed the food scarcity in the socialist era where the average life span was reduced to 50 years only! Moreover, the human body loses resistance to disease when it is not properly fed. The misery of India?s masses results from a low intake of food that condemns them to lead unproductive lives where employment opportunities cannot be taken advantage of. Inadequate consumption of food leads to discontent that in turn explodes into anti-social behavior.

Large sections of our population that earn adequate income must now be weaned away from dependence on the public distribution system for meeting their food requirements. If these people can be compelled to buy food in the open market, it would open the public distribution system to those who truly need cheap food. Moreover, since poor people have no access to black income, they cannot afford high-priced quality food unlike privileged people. This lacuna has to be filled in by government policy.

India needs to protect its children from the ravages of hunger. India also needs to protect its manpower from malnourishment. The country?s success in a global environment depends on the easy and adequate availability of quality food to feed its skilled personnel. Otherwise, there will be a loss of productivity and creativity with the associated deterioration in health standards.

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