The book sat on my shelf for many weeks. It had been written by a friend I admire. I had been meaning to read it but somehow never found the time or hindsight I think that the right moment had not dawned. It did today a day after all the hullabaloo on the grain wastage that rocked our Parliament yesterday. Finally an outrage on the unbelievable amount of grains rotting whilst children die every day for want of food.
Her account on the plight of the Sahariya tribe where children die of hunger by the hour is heart wrenching. She writes: I have been thinking ever since. About comments from administration officials on the Sahariya ‘culture’ of dying. About pregnant women who chew bits of gum plucked of gum trees trying to kill hunger pangs. About women who have not eaten for three days giving birth alone in dark hovels, knowing their breasts are dry. About the dismissive assistant in the nutritional rehabilitation center who said that Sahariya women hardly deserve the state’s help, because they smoke beedis. About Lakshmi, and how she was lighter than my purse. About a state that promises handouts to a group of people who are clearly on the brink, and then fails to deliver. Is this what you call being squeezed off the map?
Squeezed out of the map. The words struck a painful chord. Is this not what is happening not only to he Sahariyas but to everyone born on the other side of an invisible fence. It seems that our state is squeezing them off the map. True that this very State has fab sounding programmes designed to help the poor, alleviate hunger, send children to school and more but this is all a wily and insidious head fake: you see these programmes are actually meant to line bottomless pockets!
But let us get back to yesterday and the rotting grain saga. Why does it take a supreme court order for our rulers and administrators to realise that grains should not be left to rot and is better given to those who are hungry. Do you have to be a rocket scientist to know that grain left outside will eventually rot? Now those in power are busy quibbling about semantics between the word suggestion and order while more grain is rotting. And why does the Minister have to have the order in hand to begin to act. It was also revealed in a debate on TV that in Punjab granaries are full of perfectly edible rice but that this is not being given to the poor as it is 6 and not 5 % broken and rules cannot be broken. If nothing is done then where will the new crop go. You guessed right in the open and allowed to rot and a child will die of hunger every 8.7804 minute. It is all a matter of squeezing them off the map. No one seems to care.
This squeeze game is being played out surreptitiously in front of our eyes but we seem to have lots the capacity to see. Promises are made and never delivered. The squeeze game is in full swing each time someone loses his livelihood, when a family loses its home and the promised one never materialises: the list is endless. And to be part of this game you just have to be born on the other side of the fence. There is no winner or loser, the aim is simply to squeeze out whoever gets in the way and there are no rules, anything goes.
You want to build a factory, you squeeze out those who live on the land you covet, you want to beautify your city you squeeze out those who live on the place you need, you want to build a parking lot, a mall, you squeeze out part of a school and so on.
So the grain will not reach the poor because they need to be squeezed out. Pulling them on to the other side is not part of the game. I wish it were.
Note: The book I refer too is Known Turf by Annie Zaidi. Do read it.