Forgive the rather disgusting picture that illustrates this mail but there is a method to my madness. This picture was taken close to the Chhattrapur Temple located not far from Utpal's school. He wanted to buy some sweets and this was the closest market. We have just experienced another nine days of the bi-annual feeding frenzy that happens in North India during what is known as the Navratas, or nine nights dedicated to the Goddess.What has become tradition, or a way to please God and Godesses is the feeding of people. Tents are erected at every street corner, food is cooked sur place, and then doled out in non degradable plates to one and all. I guess it is a feel good factor for the ones who organise such communal feeding. I am sure God(dess) will be happier if one fed one person log haul. What horrifies me is the amount of food wasted and thrown away. You would not believe how much goo food there was in this pile! It could have fed so many hungry children. I see red when people waste food, more so when it is done by supposedly educated ones. And I cannot help myself each time I am faced with a similar situation, of thinking of the part in Ash in the Belly that describes the way mothers ferret rat holes in search of a few grains for their hungry babies: On days where there is no food in the house the whole family sets out to find food. They scour the harvested fields of the landlords with brooms to garner the gleaning of the stray grains of wheat and paddy... they follow field rats to their burrows and are skilled in scrapping out the grains stolen and stored underground by the rodents...after each weekly market ends, they collect in their sari edges, grain spilled inadvertently by traders or rotting waste vegetable... they even sift through cow dung for undigested grain. (Ash in the Belly page 6). Can you please thick about this the next time you are on the verge of throwing food.
Malnutrition kills one child every 10 seconds. 3.1 million children die every year. These are the latest statistics. In India, one child dies every 4 minutes because of malnutrition. 2.1 million every year. They die of totally preventable diseases like diarrhoea, typhoid, measles mostly because their immune system is impaired. They die because of lack of clean water, lack of sanitation and lack of nourishment. They die because no one cares. They die because grains rot with impunity. They die because programmes made for them never reach them but get hijacked by wily predators. And as these programmes fail, more are made and more pockets fattened.
Amidst all the talk of making India a super power, comes an article from the State our Prime Minister hails from, a state that is often pitched as an example to emulate. The article citing Government sources states that over 6.5 lakh malnourished children in Gujarat. A knee jerk reply promises remedial action: providing take-home rations, giving fruits, milk as well as breakfast to anganwadi children, besides giving supplementary food to malnourished children. We have heard this ad- nauseum and know that not much will change on the ground. These measures were first enunciated way back in 1975 when the ICDS (Integrated Child Development Scheme) was launched. Had it worked there would not have been over 25 million malnourished children in India today. The scheme has failed miserably. All you need to do is visit one of the anganwadis (creche) and you will know the reality.
One child dying from preventable reasons is one child too many. One child every 4 minutes which is what happens in India should make us hang our heads in shame. One child dying every 4 minutes in a land where food grain rots, where food is wasted with impunity in weddings or in the name of religion be it the plates of food thrown during feeding frenzies on the road side, or the still heaped plates found under tables at wedding feasts, or the gallons of milk poured over stone statues is unacceptable. I do not know of any God, if he or she exists, who would not rather have that food find its way in the stomach of a hungry child.
Five thousands deaths a day of children between 0 and 5 is a tragedy. But it does not stop there, even those who make will never be able to develop fully. Malnutrition in early years damage the child for life: their growth is stunted, their immunity low and their brain is affected resulting in lower IQs. Before anything else, it is imperative to tackle malnutrition on a war footing particularly as we pride ourselves in having the youngest population in the world.
I have written about this so many tines, and elicited few reactions. Maybe I belong to another planet but to me the statistic of a child dying of hunger in a land readying itself for a Mars Landing is deeply disturbing.