People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


Vol. XXXIV

No. 15

April 11, 2010

Hungry Hai Kya?

 

G Mamatha

Story 1

AS usual, we are playing with the stones all around. We are 10, all good friends. I am the eldest, so it is my duty to look after the others while mother and father are working. My mother, father and my friends’ mother and father all are friends too. They work together, breaking big hills into small stones.

One day, I did not find little Golu. While I am the eldest, she is the youngest, only one year ‘old’. Golu’s mother and father are also not there. So I thought they might have left to some other place. It is common among us. Sometimes some people go away saying that they want some other work to 'live'. I never understand why they need some other work? As it is, mother and father do not play with us. Go to work early in the morning, come home late in the evening, talk a little, occasionally laugh and then sleep. We only play.

So when Golu did not come, I asked mother if they too had gone somewhere to 'live'. My mother said Golu will never come, but her mother and father are here only. I was afraid because some days ago one person had come to our village and taken away one of my friends. He gave money. I asked if the same thing had happened. My mother replied sadly, no, Golu went alone. “Little Golu whom we used to carry with us, went alone?” Mother looking up said the place she went, one always goes alone. I did not understand.

In the afternoon, Golu’s mother and father had come along with Golu. I and my friends shouted, Golu has come, Golu has come. Golu is tied in a blanket and is not moving. I wondered, usually she laughs on hearing our voices. She is sleeping. But her mother and father are crying. Usually, they are happy when she sleeps, otherwise she cries a lot. We also used to do like that when we were small. Not now. Now we are used to it.

There used to be something happening in our stomachs. It is very painful. We learnt that it is called hunger. We also used to cry a lot. Seeing us, mother also used to cry sometimes and sometimes would be angry. We did not understand why they are angry, we did nothing wrong. It is only our stomach. And we do not know why it does not understand that hunger makes mother sad and angry. As we grew old, we understood that if we eat something, the stomach will not create any problem. What do we have? Rice is very little and mother cooks it in the morning. Whatever is cooked, she first gives it to me, then father and then she eats. First, I used to ask more, but now I understood that it only makes mother more sad. I saw that mother and father too are eating like me only, little. So I stopped asking, as I know they work hard; breaking stones, carrying it on heads, pouring them on lorries etc.

We friends are clever. We understood that if we eat, stomach will not create any problems. So we started eating mud that is freely available around us. It is not as good as what mother cooks, but it makes the stomach happy. Sometimes we have pain in the stomach, but that is OK. Our stomachs started growing round and coming out. We used to play saying my stomach is big, no mine is big.

One day some new people came to us. They asked us to show our stomachs and took some pictures. We were surprised, why they are interested in our stomachs. They asked us what we eat. We told them. I was surprised that they did not understand why we eat mud. Now I understand why.

Story 2

Hi, I am seven years old. One day we (me, dad and mom) were supposed to go to picnic. My mummy personally directed my maid to cook good food. She asked me what more do I want. To eat on the way, I asked for chips, biscuits, coke and nothing else. Everything is ready. Suddenly dad got a call on his cell. He once again looked at the papers and read them again. He looked a little unhappy. Mom and I are all ready. He looked at us, sighed and said he should go to his quarry. Mom said we too would go along with him and from there proceed as we had planned. So we left in our Honda City to a village. He asked the driver to stop the car near a hill and went out to meet some people gathered there. It is not even 10 am, but it is very hot, so mom and I did not get out of the car. I asked mom, where dad is going. She pointed to the hill and said it is ours and the people standing there work for us. I asked surprised, “The hill is dad’s?” I felt very proud when my mother said yes. If a person can own hills and rivers then I thought I should own the biggest of them all. I immediately said when I become big, I will own Himalayas.

For time pass, I started eating chips and looking outside the car. There were some children standing little away and staring at us. May be they were seeing such a car for the first time, which made me feel proud. Looking at them, I noticed that they too had quite big bellies. My friends used to tease me, ‘motu’ saying that I have a big belly. Theirs is bigger than mine, but their hands and legs are a lot thinner than mine. I asked mom. She scolded me not to compare with those 'bumpkins'. But I was unable to turn my head or thoughts away from them. Why are their bodies like that? Why don't they have any clothes? What do they do? Do they go to school? What do they eat?

Post Script

Half of Indian children are malnourished, a record worse than the world’s symbol for deprivation, sub-Saharan Africa. India is ranked 66 out of 88 countries in the Global Hunger Index. She is home to a quarter of the world’s hungry – about 230 million people – according to a recent report. Ironically, there is a growing concern that many Indians are getting obese! Many are suffering from lack of food, while some from over eating!

According to Arjun Sen Gupta report, 77 per cent of the population in our country lives on less than Rs 20 per day (this is one among the many 'domestic' truths that our home minister who also worked as the finance minister does not know). On the other hand, according to the 2009 Forbes Report, the number of billionaires in our country nearly doubled to 52 and they value a fourth of the total GDP.

This is India today, a country of contrasts. Who are our farmers and workers – billionaires or paupers? If they are not billionaires, is it because they do nothing but laze around? Who are the malnourished and who is obese? It is the toiling people who are poor and malnourished. The central government, which needs them for votes, does not exist for them. It does not take steps to ensure minimum wages, steps to control price rise or strengthen and universalise the public distribution system. That does not mean the government is sitting idle. It is doing a lot – only to please the interests of the US and the haves in our country. Did it not give thousands of crores as tax concessions to the 'malnourished' corporate sector in our country? It has the will to cater to the needs of the rich but no means to feed the poor.

It is not that we do not have foodgrains to feed our population. In our godowns, the government has stored 474.65 lakh tonnes of wheat and rice as 'buffer stock' as against the required norm of 200 lakh tonnes. Buffer against? Hunger...price rise...hoarding? No. In Punjab, they are rotting in the open weather and are catering to rats – to eradicate malnourishment among them. In Rajasthan, FCI godowns are being used to store liquor while food stocks rot outside. Even more shocking is the fact that the FCI systematically dismantled its own storage infrastructure by ‘de-hiring’ 170 lakh metric tonnes of storage space in the three years during 2006-2009. Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh are providing subsidised food grains to distilleries to produce liquor. Hail the government – of the aam admi and for the aam admi!

PS to Post script: The malnourished children, along with their anaemic mothers and lean fathers were seen picketing the central government offices on  April 8, joined by the people who question the policies of the government.