I am sure many of you remember the epic film of the late fifties aptly named Mother India and the stunning poster that depicted the leading lady ploughing her land. The film was a symbol of the newly independent India and of the brave and righteous Indian woman. We have all seen the film and been touched by its story but it belonged to a distant past or so we thought. Yet 55 years later in a village in Vidharbha a farmer is tilling his land using his sons instead of bullocks. The news was aired a couple of days ago and I for one found it difficult to watch the images and had to turn my eyes away. I was filled with horror, extreme sadness and profound shame. This could not be happening and yet it was. And this was not all. Even after the story was highlighted by a local newspaper there was no relief as their appeal for a pair of bullocks was turned as they were considered to be above the poverty line and hence not eligible for the said scheme. All they got was free power to operate the well they had dug with their own hands. The family was considered above the poverty line because they owned 8 acres of land. Never mind if they had scant more! And theirs is not the only case.
What does one say! I am speechless just as I was when I read the Planning Commission's aberrational definition of the poor as one who spent less than 15Rs a day. And that is not the only scary statistic. What about the one that states that a child does of malnutrition every 8.7 minutes or the one recently published in a leading magazine that states makes known that 46% of the malnourished children of the world live in India. This article pertains to the Food Security Bill that is sadly being watered down by the Government. Why am I not surprised. Such bills are made not to help anyone but to line more pockets. Children die while grain rots and bureaucrat and politician quibble over the definition of the word poor. That is the sad reality in 21st century India.
And what is sadder is that we all watch helpless and even unmoved. We still waste food, even throw food and when solicited for help by some humanitarian organisation are quick to retort that all organisations are dubious and suspicious. And the saddest part is that it is not only the uber rich who are profligate . The new poor, those who have arrived and now live in urban slums, emulate us unabashedly. For me it has been a losing battle over a decade to try and explain that food should not be wasted. In villages one can still give it to animals, in cities it is simply thrown in the garbage or even on the street. The most blatant example being the aftermath of religious feeding frenzies and wasteful weddings. And still we the so called educated and informed remain dry eyed. We do read about children dying, food rotting, people being used as bullocks; we see food being wasted, children begging at every street corner, beggars rummaging the garbage heap from a scrap of food but are too jaded to make connections and let alone take action. So why should our politicians. Are they not a reflection of who we are?
I just finished reading Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelmann, a book that retraces the last days of the British Raj and the advent of our Independence. What caught my attention was the humane nature of erstwhile leaders who could not bear to see any suffering and who felt compelled to reach out and act. Where have all such leaders gone? Today everyone seems inured to misery, suffering and more.
And that everyone includes me. Is it sufficient to feel horror, sadness, shame and write a blog from the comfort of my home?