As we prepare to celebrate the 59th anniversary of our Republic, we are justifiably proud of the success of our often anarchic democracy. But amid the pomp and pageantry, statistics in the latest Unicef report on India’s children should be a sobering thought. India accounts for 2.1 million children of the 10 million worldwide who die before the age of five. One child dies every three seconds. Of the four million neonatal deaths in the world, one million are in India. Comparisons do not serve for much but we have fallen behind Eritria, Ethiopia and our neighbour Bangladesh in infant mortality reduction. While India is a fervent advocate of UN development goals, it now seems a distant dream that we can achieve the target of 7.6 per cent reduction in infant deaths from the current 2.6 per cent. And, this despite the fact that India has had the Integrated Child Development Programme in place for 30 years.
India has every right to showcase its spectacular economic success but this has to translate into a better quality of life for its most precious asset, its people. There are no magic mantras for achieving this. It’s all there in the myriad of policies for the welfare of the underprivileged. But the proof of the pudding lies in the implementation and that is where we have fallen so woefully short. The fall in child mortality across the world was achieved by inexpensive measures like immunisation, breast-feeding, bed nets and nutrition. More than 42 per cent of Indian children are not immunised and over 40 per cent of clinics in India do not have a trained person on site during a patient’s visit. The main cause of death among Indian children is malnutrition, an ironic situation given our overflowing granaries. The Prime Minister, an eminent economist, has often spoken about inclusive growth. But the underlying cause for such dismal development indicators is the lack of political will and poor governance.
At the risk of repeating ourselves, politics today has become an end in itself. Of course, come election time or in order to berate political opponents with, the issue of gender equality and child rights is raised. But, there the matter normally ends. Where there is political will, these indicators can be reversed, as states like Kerala have shown. The first Prime Minister of our country, Jawaharlal Nehru, was inordinately fond of Robert Frost’s poem of which two lines were, ‘But I have promises to keep/ And miles to go before I sleep’. The Indian State still owes the promises part of that to its people.