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19 June 2012

‘Hungry India’ Tag Lingers on

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By Syed Ali Mujtaba

This is a chilling story of two sisters who were starving for six years due to want of money. Their family, neighbors, community locality, state and the nation all hang their heads in shame being a party to their slow dying process.

What a irony of a nation, that brand itself as “shining” and whose Supreme Court have given directive that no one should die for want of food or of hunger in this country.

Two malnourished sisters, who did not step out of their house for the past six years, were rescued by a NGO from their home in Rohini sector 8, in the national capital region and got them admitted to a government hospital in Delhi.

They were found immensely dehydrated, in tattered clothes, with disheveled hair and had not taken bath since long when the NGO opened their house. They had wounds all over their body and they were bed-sores on their back and feet.

According to sources, Mamta Gupta (30), who is divorcee and has a teenaged son and her sister Neerja (28) stayed with their 65-year-old mother. The sisters were suffering from some psychological disorder.

The condition of the sisters also had to do with the family's financial situation which had deteriorated soon after their father passed away a decade ago. Some relatives used to help them financially as they did not have any source of income but that was not enough.

It was on a distress call from the NGO that brought a Centralized Accident & Trauma Service (CATS) ambulance to their residence. The sisters were so frail that the para-medical staffs were scared of lift them by hand for fear that their bones could snap or the skin could peel off. It was impossible to measure their blood pressure.

While Neerja was still in her senses, Mamata was unconscious and had almost been reduced to a skeleton. She weighed just 20 kilos. Doctors attending Mamata said she was severely starved and her body is covered with bed sores and fungal infection. The functioning of her organs like heart, kidney and liver has also been affected due to prolonged starvation. She can't move her body and her joints were stiff because she had been bedridden for several months and a chance of her survival was less.

The case of the two malnourished sisters is strikingly similar to the case reported in April 2011, when two sisters in their forties were rescued from Noida near New Delhi where they had locked themselves in for months after their father’s death and were found starving. While the Rohni sisters lived with their mother and teenage boy, the Noida sisters were living alone.
These cases open up the debate on social security net for the citizens of the country. There is something like old age pension, which is again being grossly misused, there is nothing to help the common citizens of the country.

Late president R. Venkataraman had taken up this issue after his retirement but his lone voice could not sustain the campaign of providing social security to citizens of the country. As a result even in the 21st century, the tag of ‘Hungry India; lingers on. 

Malnutrition accounts for nearly 50% of child deaths in India .According to the latest report on the state of food insecurity in rural India, more than 1.5 million children are at risk of becoming malnourished because of rising global food prices.

The United Nations World Food Programme report points more than 27% of the world’s undernourished population lives in India while 43% of children (under 5 years) in the country are underweight. The figure is among the highest in the world.

The proportion of stunted children (under-5) at 48% is again among the highest in the world. Every second child in the country is stunted, according to the health ministry’s figures.
Imagine this with the report that ‘10,688 lakh tones of food grains were found damaged in FCI depots, enough to feed over six lakh people for over 10 years.’ Food worth nearly Rs 60,000 crore is being destroyed every year due to poor and insufficient storage facilities. The government spends about Rs 2.6 crore of the tax payers’ money to get rid of food grain that has rotted during storage.

The failure does not lie in any operational inability to produce more food, but a far reaching failure to make the poor of the country able to afford enough food.

Hunger is primarily a problem of general poverty, and thus overall economic growth and its distributional pattern cannot but be important in solving the hunger problem. It is important to pay attention to employment opportunities and other ways of acquiring economic means. It is also important to control food prices as it influences people’s lives. 

It is shameful that in a country where so many people go hungry it is left to the media and other agencies to highlight the pathetic state of affairs. Right to food should be made the fundament right in the country.

[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a Journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba@yahoo.com]

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