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Childkillers

?Two Indias? has become such a stock phrase that one hardly ever stops to consider what it really means beyond the almost abstraction of the ?urban-rural divide.

india Updated: Apr 17, 2006 00:20 IST

‘Two Indias’ has become such a stock phrase that one hardly ever stops to consider what it really means beyond the almost abstraction of the ‘urban-rural divide. But once in a while, a tale of such deprivation and horror is brought to light that the very notion of a prosperous, economically active India becomes laughable if it weren’t so unbearably tragic. One such tale is being told in the ‘prosperous’ state of Maharashtra. In districts that include Amravati, Thane and Nasik, tribal children have been dying of malnourishment — a hardly more palatable euphemism for starvation — right under the nose of the government. They continue to die not because there is a scarcity of food but because of rampant corruption and theft in the food distribution system.

In 2002, the commissioner of the Maharashtra Tribal Training and Research Institute came out with reports linking child deaths in these regions to malnutrition. As far as denials go, there is nothing louder than a government in this country denying the existence of poverty — and worse — deaths due to hunger. The Maharashtra government, reacting to the 2002 report, instantly denied that the children’s deaths had been caused by the lack of food and, in fact, issued a show cause notice against the commissioner. That about 2 per cent of tribal children in various districts have died of malnutrition — about 9,000 between April 2003 and May 2004 — is shocking. When a photographer from this paper shot a picture of a writhing malnourished child, he was strongly discouraged by the authorities not to ‘expose’ them. The fact that children are dying because of hunger in 21st India is shocking enough. But to know that government authorities would rather brush such a man-made tragedy under the carpet than rectify it takes one’s breath away.

For all those who believe that schemes like the rural employment guarantee are the panacea for poverty in this country, this should be a wake-up call. If corruption has been turned into a murder weapon — especially one that kills children —  it is a sad nation that lets matters be. And worse, keep them hidden from the rest of us.