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A haunting tale of hunger

Bluntly put: This book tells you why India can't feed itself. Zia Haq writes.

books Updated: Jan 26, 2013 17:27 IST
Zia Haq

Ash in the Belly
India's Unfinished Battle Against Hunger
Harsh Mander
Penguin Books India
Rs. 399 pp 344

It is a profound irony that 200 million Indians should sleep on an empty stomach in the world's largest producer of milk and edible oils, and the second-largest grower of wheat and sugar.

Never since the green revolution of the 1960s has India had a truly food-deficit year. Yet, why India figures among 29 countries with the highest levels of hunger, stunted children and poorly fed women is no longer a puzzle.

It is not a problem of food shortage, but of equitable distribution.

Harsh Mander, the author of Ash in the Belly, has fought a long battle to put an end to it - as a former bureaucrat, a member of the Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council and as a food security campaigner.

For those wanting to know why India can't feed itself, Ash is a good place to start.

Mander alternates between prosaic commentary and a life-cycle tale of hunger told by real-life characters.

The pathways of hunger span from city streets to tribal outbacks. Like Holocaust-denial, Indian officials habitually deny starvation. Poverty benchmarks are set so absurdly low that few would get by. Among the many evils, Mander rightly identifies the gravest of all: a government focused more on saving money, not its hungry people.