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September 04, 2011

Page: 38/39

Home > 2011 Issues > September 04,, 2011

Hunger kills

By Dr Pravin Togadia

WHILE travelling through various parts of Bharat – villages, small muddy paths connecting tiny villages and even around urban and semi urban hutments – I always noticed kids and old people who were so thin and malnourished that my heart shivered and as a medical doctor, I could very well see the dehydrated wrinkles skins stuck to their bones with no flesh anywhere, their eyes lost in the dark circles and their feet trembling… Off late, to my shocking surprise, I am also noticing young people as well of this type! Hungry, malnourished, ill… It is not even any particular state’s picture; it is all over Bharat! Hunger is killing Bharat!

Sure, many surveys are being conducted on this serious issue. Somewhere one gets to see the detailed data sheets or news items or even government documents as to how many hunger and hunger related deaths in Bharat, where Bharat stands in the global index of hunger deaths, percentage of malnourished kids, women and old people in Bharat as compared to global data etc. I read somewhere that long back in 2006 almost 36 million people died of hunger in Bharat. Some say that 10 million people die each year of chronic hunger and hunger related diseases in Bharat. In a global data sheet it was mentioned and a leading newspaper in Bharat printed it with great zeal that with 230 million malnourished people, Bharat is the highest in global list. The report also said that 50 per cent of child deaths in Bharat were due to hunger / malnourishment and every 3rd adult (Age 15 to 49) is at a risk being so very thin due to forced hunger related malnourishment with BMI less than 18.5. With tremendous food insecurity in rural Bharat, 1.5 million kids are at immediate risk of hunger deaths and this food insecurity in Bharat is due to the rising global process! 1.1 billion people in the world have no access to water at all!

Numbers, figures, percentages and such other datum give some picture of the grave scene of food security in Bharat; but when one travels and sees almost dead people – forced hunger deaths – like these, one realises that mere numbers, studies and big government promises about Food Security and Bills related to it, may soothe the intellectuals and TV created activists; but Bharat is much deeper than all these. Hunger is neither a mere data sheet nor a ‘size zero’ fad or a socio-political weapon to bring about change; millions of hungry Indians are Bharat’s own kids! They have faces, they have families and they do not seem to have any future as they are made to die of forced hunger! Their parents or forefathers may have voted for various political parties earlier or most of them do not even have access to water – forget food! EVMs, voting, education are not even distant dreams for them!

No! I am not a pessimistic; but in past 15 years during my lakhs of miles of travel in rural Bharat what I saw has shattered me inside out. Every time I sit for eating anything or even drinking a cup of tea, invariably many gloomy, bony and starved faces start floating in front of my eyes. In my childhood, we have seen poverty. We have ourselves worked in a small farm with our mother trying to make ends meet with great difficulty. But somehow, we got some food. It was not fancy. It was simple, sometimes limited; but we could somehow eat.

Today, what I see all over Bharat is not only shocking, it is scary. Tonnes of foodgrains are being wasted due to government negligence and apathy towards real people. Millions of dollars are being spent on creating high rise buildings and food malls… At the same time, millions of people in Bharat die/at risk of hunger death in the same Bharat!

The irony is that whenever someone like me speaks of any temple or an issue related to Hindutva, the same fancy media, high rise types and the so-called social activists start shouting—such people are taking India (they don’t like the word ‘Bharat’!) back in 10th century! When we agitated against a Shankaracharya’s arrest on Deepawali, a leftist reporter shouted on his channel – ‘These Hindutvawalas do not give Bharat band call for any hungry labourers, but do it for the Shankaracharya!’ A young boy, age 16, asked me, ‘This reporter is wearing suit and tie, he must be having kids and must be buying expensive pizza for them; how many pizzas must he have bought for the poor labourers’ kids!’ Bharat knows who really cares and who pretends to care!’

Staying hungry by choice – for dieting due to increased weight or for religious fasting or even for a greater social cause is a personal choice of that particular person. But forced hunger, diseases arising out of it and deaths are serious issues that Bharat immediately need to address. Some of us have started an initiative Ek Mutthi Anaaj (EMA) that tries to inspire people, wealthy housewives to spare a fistful of foodgrains everyday, store them well and donate to the poor needy families every week. To collect and reliably distribute to the real needy, EMA has a team of volunteers all over Bharat and the donor of the food can also join them to give to the families. The idea is that if one is giving to the needy, then the giver gets that punya, so it should be given with dignity and respect. Therefore, the poor families are not made to queue up or go anywhere, but the EMA volunteers go to their houses /shacks, touch their feet and give them foodgrains packets with respect.

But such initiatives cannot replace government systems that must deliver now before 80 per cent population of Bharat dies of hunger, malnourishment or related diseases like Anemia, various other vitamins deficiency etc. Corruption can be one of the causes of the unequal distribution of foodgrains in Bharat; but there are bigger causes as well and land grab is one such. Forced unemployment is another. Basic reason for all this is apathy and zero accountability for deliverable systems on part of the government as well as of the healthier and wealthier society. Hunger is not a fashion or a fad or a respectable noble social cause for the person who is forced to die of hunger; it is a compulsory death for that kid or an adult despite his wishes to live! While Bharat is fast becoming an economic superpower, such increasing number forced hunger deaths and malnourishment must be tackled by a strong and immediate initiative jointly created by all the government – central and states – and all of us – all people of Bharat who wish to again make Bharat as glorious as she was before 14 centuries! All imaginary, vague and fancy issues – however glamourous, publicity-oriented they may be – should be kept aside and forced hunger should be irradiated from Bharat!

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