Starvation in India
According to a recent news report, an eighteen year old boy reportedly died of starvation in Ramgarh district’s Gola block recently. The deceased’s parents also met with a similar fate way back in the year 2003. Even after a decade, it is unfortunate that starvation is still claiming lives in India, a country which takes pride in being a self-sufficient nation in food production. In an economically progressive India, starvation acts like a blot on this progressive nation. Apart from being a blot on the nation, it is apparent that the country is unable to combat the disparities between the haves and the have-nots in terms of availability of food meant for sustenance of life. It cannot be denied that India is the country with the maximum disparities between the rich and the poor. Starvation in this context thus becomes all the more a relevant topic to talk about.
What is Starvation and its Concepts
Starvation is a condition characterized by a deficiency in calorie energy intake and is a graver form of malnutrition which ultimately leads to death if not taken care about. Historically, starvation has been constant across various human cultures apart from India. Starvation can take place in a country due to many reasons like war, famine, the disparities between the rich and the poor and so on. Malnutrition conditions like kwashiorkor and marasmus can also develop into serious causes of starvation. Generally, the conditions of kwashiorkor and marasmus arise when people are taking diets which are not rich in nutrients (proteins, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats and roughage). According to World Health Organization, the top ten causes of death through disease include the deficiencies of iron, vitamin A and zinc.
Starvation is an epidemic prevalent in some countries of the developing world. In places, where there is extreme poverty, starvation then becomes an involuntary condition.
Statistical Facts on World Hunger
The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization in its 2013 estimates states that there are nearly 870 million people of the 7.1 billion people in the world who were suffering from chronic malnourishment in 2010-2012 and almost all such people are living in developing countries. The number of starving people grew in Africa in this period from 175 million to 239 million. The rates of undernourishment have come down in Latin America, Caribbean. Also, according to Global Hunger Index released in 2013, some 210 million people in India are among the world’s hungry.
As per other surveys, the trends in India with respect to undernourishment indicate that the nutritive value consumed per person is dipping. The statistics are shameful in the sense that instead of being able to devise measures to eradicate starvation, we are taking pride in our economic productivity. An economic progress of a country will not matter in the long run unless and until its citizens are not ensured of basic food needed for the maintenance of life.
Causes of Starvation in India
Currently, the North Bengal region, the Jharkhand region, and Madhya Pradesh are the worst hit regions by starvation. India though follows a history of starving incidents. In 1943, millions of people in Bengal starved to death, the death toll being set at 3-4 million during the Bengal famine in January 1943. It needs to be highlighted that India didn’t have a shortage of food supplies in 1943 as it exported 70,000 tons of rice for use by British. Wheat shipments from Australia passed along the Indian coast, but weren’t used at all to feed the starving nation.
A major hindrance in fighting starvation in India is the lack of proper implementation of government schemes which are directed towards providing food for one and all. Either there is corruption on the local levels or there is a disinterest among the government officials to ensure that the schemes are properly being carried out. In 2010, the government-run food distribution programme in the eastern state of Jharkhand shut down when the local ration dealer stopped the distribution of grains. The schedules castes and scheduled tribes are the poorest of the poor and thus at maximum risk.
In the context of India, it becomes needless to say that the food distribution system is flawed. The Supreme Court has issued orders over the past decades directing the government to take measures like mid-day meal schemes and the provision of health care schemes for pregnant and lactating women. The National Food Security Bill which has become a landmark Act does seem to show promises with respect to its measures of the identification of the poor and the needy, redressal mechanisms for grievances and children’s entitlements. But, this bill also is not without its cons. Clear mechanisms with respect to the identification of beneficiaries have not been defined. The indicators of the poor need to be made specific. They are vague in description. The bill states that the states will provide the list of the poor but the states obviously do not possess such records. All the committees which have been designed to look into the measures of poverty have set different numbers for the below the poverty line population. As far as the Public Distribution system is concerned, it is a well-known reality that almost 51% of the food delivered is lost to leakages and is sold in the open market for a higher price.
There is no clarity on the occasions of drought and flood with respect to the production of food and the inherent price rise in the subsidies bill which might force many needy people out of the ambit of the entitlement to the subsidies. We need to reduce the leakages from the distribution system and make it transparent.
Starvation: A concept which entails aspects other than food
Starvation deaths are beyond food. They are also a result of failure of government institutions that are meant to help the needy and the poor. Illiteracy also puts these people at a higher risk when the food supply dries up due to the lack of knowledge. Also, the medical treatments are subpar in their approach which again impedes the deaths caused by starvation. Government hospitals are located far-off and private hospitals are expensive.
Thus, the need of the hour is to implement existing as well as future schemes of the Government with a mission to eradicate the hunger of the people and to make the phenomenon of starvation deaths a thing of the past. And for that purpose, apart from administrative authorities, NGOs and people in general will have to make effort with compassion and with the spirit of brotherhood.