We Can’t Feed The Poor But We Can Fund A War?


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‘Bhookhe bhajan na hoye gopala’ goes the Hindi saying – ‘You can’t pray on an empty stomach.’ Can you hate on an empty stomach?

Indian PM Modi, after challenging Pakistan to a war on poverty and hunger seems to expect hungry Indian people to be satisfied with hate-filled slogans against Pakistan.

The Global Hunger Index 2016 shows India at a dismal 97th place among 118 countries – behind Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh though ahead of Pakistan, which stood at 107. India had the lowest rank among BRICS nations (Brazil is in the top 16, Russia 24, China 29 and South Africa 51).

India’s modest improvement is not in consonance with its boasts of growth and leadership. India still suffers ‘serious’ hunger levels, in spite of being one of the largest producer of grains, vegetables and fruits. Two out of five children in India below the age of five continue to be stunted.

Tina Edwin in The Hindu puts India’s showing in context:

“… even now over 184 million people or about 15.2 per cent of the population are undernourished according to the estimates of the GHI 2016 — and that means India has the largest number of hungry people…

“The proportion of under-nourished people has declined seven percentage points from 22.2 per cent in 1992 when India’s population was about 846 million…wasting and stunting among Indian children below the age of 5 has declined … from about 20 per cent in the early 1990s to about 15.1 per cent now and stunting has declined from 62 per cent to about 38.7 per cent during the same period.

“India’s progress however pales when compared with the improvements made by several other poorer nations in Asia and Africa in their GHI score. For instance, Myanmar improved its GHI score by 61 per cent between 1992 and 2016 — the country had a poorer score than India in 1991. Myanmar’s GHI score was 55.8 in 1992 and it has improved to 22 in 2016. Ghana and Vietnam too count among countries that have done better than India on the GHI — both have recorded 65 per cent or more improvement during the same period.

Each of these countries improved their score by bringing down the proportion of undernourished population, prevalence of wasting and stunting among children under five years as well as by reducing under-five mortality rate. Myanmar, for instance, reduced proportion of under-nourished among its population from 62.7 per cent to 14.2 per cent from 1995 to 2016. Vietnam reduced it from 44.8 per cent to 11 per cent and Ghana from 36.9 per cent to an estimated 2.3 per cent. …

“…although the gross per capita availability of fruits is estimated to be about 170 grams per day and vegetables at 385 grams per day, the net per capita availability is far lower — 120 grams of fruits and 270 grams of vegetables per day. Pulses intake, estimated at 47 grams per day currently, is lower than the intake prior to the Green Revolution.”

India is the largest producer of milk in the world and third largest producer of eggs: yet the vast sections of the poor in India lack access to these essential nutrients. Governments shy away from expansion and universalisation of PDS rations, Right to Food schemes and welfare programmes. BJP State Governments have even tried to discourage or avoid serving eggs – a relatively cheap and rich source of protein – to children in mid-day meal schemes, reflecting Brahminical agendas.

Tupac Shakur sang, “They got money for wars but can’t feed the poor.” This line is truest of countries like India and Pakistan, where defence spending is unconscionably high while social spending is shamefully low.

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