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Death by hunger is India’s tragic reality

It is pertinent to realise that 34 out of 1,000 children born in the country die in the mother’s womb itself. Nine lakh children below the age of five die much before they can comprehend the meaning of independent India and approximately 19 crore people in the country are compelled to sleep on an empty stomach.

columns Updated: Jul 30, 2018 12:48 IST
Three innocent girls died last week in Delhi’s Mandawali area. The postmortem revealed that their stomachs did not have even a single trace of food. (Reuters)

The history of the nation won’t record the names of Shikha, Manasi or Parul in its pages. Why should it be bothered about them? It is used to chronicling only the affairs of heroes, villains and court jesters. The joys and sorrows of ordinary people don’t usually find a place in our historical tomes.

You may be wondering which section of people am I talking about on Monday morning. Let me inform you: three innocent girls died last week in Delhi’s Mandawali area. The post-mortem revealed that their stomachs did not have even a single trace of food. In other words, they had not eaten for many days. You can well imagine what these girls underwent in their in final moments! They might not have understood the dictionary meaning of the word ‘hunger’, but they lost their life because of it.

At the time these girls were dying of starvation, their mentally ill mother, too, was with them in their dilapidated hut. Owing to her mental ailment as well as a language problem, the native of West Bengal couldn’t even seek help from her neighbours. When the girls were about to die, Mangal, their father, was away looking for work on the streets of the national capital.

Mangal had left his home in rural West Bengal two years ago and moved to New Delhi in search of employment. For lack of any other job, he had become a rickshaw-puller. Even the rickshaw was snatched away by local goons. On the one hand, his source of income dried up, on the other, the rickshaw owner was putting pressure on him to return the money. Even his landlord threw him out owing to his inability to pay the rent.

Who says the Capital cares for the entire nation?

A few other questions are tormenting my mind. Is this the ground reality in the world’s sixth biggest economy? The truth about the governance of popular West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is that people are being forced to migrate from the state. When will the central and state governments, busy fighting for power in Delhi, talk about these issues? Which politician will take the lead to ensure that nobody else dies of hunger? On Thursday, some MPs raised this issue in Parliament, but it was more political posturing than a serious debate on hunger. Why don’t our honourable lawmakers display some unity on such poignant issues?

Since Mangal and his family are neither Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, nor those displaced from Kashmir, nobody has the time or inclination to pay attention to their plight. The doctors who conducted the post-mortem on the children were shocked to see that their fat levels had crashed to zero. Or in other words, despite the absence of any food in their stomachs, their fat levels had kept them alive for a few days. And when even the fats vanished, the girls went into a coma. Doctors told reporters that the girls were suffering from such severe malnutrition that their bones were visible under their skin. Why did these children, aged two, four and eight have to die such a tragic death?

Until the time these lines were being written, Mangal was absconding. Despite knowing very well that the girls died of starvation, the police conducted another autopsy. We have no objection if they treat the deaths of a destitute’s family with suspicion, but who is responsible for ensuring that those who snatched away Mangal’s cycle rickshaw are also punished? It is being said that he was a drug addict. Whose responsibility is it to punish those peddling drugs to him? Poverty can kill you in a number of ways. Penury often drives such people to drug addiction and the repercussions are suffered by the family members of the poor.

It is a fact that 3,000 children die of malnutrition in the country every day. Let me point out the difference between malnutrition and hunger here. Clever governments are afraid of telling people that death by hunger is a bitter fact of life in the country even today. That’s why the post-mortem reports always say that the person died of malnutrition.

It is pertinent to realise that 34 out of 1,000 children born in the country die in the mother’s womb itself. Nine lakh children below the age of five die much before they can comprehend the meaning of independent India and approximately 19 crore people in the country are compelled to sleep on an empty stomach.

From Kalahandi to Delhi, death by hunger is fast becoming a tragic reality in the country. When will our governments make an effort to overcome this crisis?

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan
letters@hindustantimes.com

First Published: Jul 30, 2018 12:46 IST