INDIA: Hunger used to be the biggest humiliation for the republic not long ago.

President Ram Nath Kovind’s address to the nation, like most of his predecessors at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, took note of persistence of hunger and malnutrition in the country, even more so among the children. He did note that though the republic has made progress in tackling hunger, yet several challenges remain. In his own words

“We have made strides in tackling hunger, but the challenge of malnutrition and of bringing the right micronutrients to the plate of every child is still there. This is important for both physical and cognitive development of our children – and for the future of our country. We simply have to invest in our human capital.”

Then he moved on to far more pressing and immediate problems plaguing the country off late. It is not that the hunger situation has improved in any significant way. Truth is far from that. India’s Global Hunger Index score in 1992 was 46.2 (lesser than that of Bangladesh), which came down marginally to 38.2 in 2000, and was still at an alarmingly high 31.4 in 2017. In fact, at 100 India is ranked lower than all its neighbours- Nepal (72), Myanmar (77), Bangladesh (88), Sri Lanka (84) and China (29). At 106, only Pakistan is doing worse than India in containing hunger.

The situation is mostly the same as it was when hunger was called the biggest humiliation of the republic. Yes, amidst all the pomp and show of the Republic Day parades, the leaders of the country were aware of its biggest failure, its biggest humiliation- hunger. Former President of India and immediate predecessor of Shri Ramnath Kovind, recognized the enormity of the problem and called it the biggest humiliation of the republic in his acceptance speech. He repeated the same many times after, like when he made a strong pitch for sustainable land use argument. Ironically, he had found India’s 80th rank out of 104 countries in the Global Hunger Index 2015 ‘unacceptable’, now it is 100th. Of course, despite his valid concern, his attribution of it to land use was a bit misplaced.

Millions of Indians do not go hungry to beds because of any lack of foodgrains in the country. Quite on the contrary, the Food Corporation of India keeps on reporting loss of thousands of tonnes of foodgrain to rotting and pests. The real reason behind hunger persisting in India is the forced denial of the same to the needy- to even those who are entitled to them through various social welfare schemes. Most of these schemes in fact never delivered to the real beneficiaries in any case, with introduction of even more exclusionary clauses like mandatory linking of Aadhar card have deprived them even more of whatever little eventually reached them. Yet, this is a debate for another day.

What must really startle all those who want to ensure the survival of the republic is how its biggest humiliation changed from hungry children to fanatics from majority community attacking the children in broad daylight. This was the concern that forced President Kovind to move away from his fleeting mention of hungry, malnourished children to the urgency of having ‘civic-minded neighbourhoods’ and respecting ‘next-door person’s space, privacy and rights’. “Where one can disagree with another viewpoint – or even with a historical event- without mocking a fellow citizen’s dignity and personal space. This is fraternity in action,” he added.

He had to, as the government of India led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi have kept quiet on the continuing vandalism and violence by the fringe. Hunger used to be the biggest humiliation of the republic not long ago; it was mostly an invisible one unlike the goons assaulting children on camera.

Sadly, the message coming out of this is horrifying. The executive has abandoned Indian children altogether and has left them to the mercy of be it whoever- hunger or hoodlums. Ceremonial heads then can only do as much as did the President- make a fleeting mention and move on.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-009-2018
Countries : India,
Issues : Democracy, Freedom of expression, Right to food, Right to health,