From: Grant Callaghan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Sat 07 Dec 2002 - 03:22:06 GMT
>Yes. When the rain is pouring down, it's a bit late to wish one had
>thought to carry an umbrella. I notice that the biggest receiver of aid
>(Egypt) had perhaps the lowest opiniion of us. Maybe we'd be better off to
>stop giving and let them solve their own problems.
Speaking of AID what good would more of it do India?
Poverty In the Midst of Plenty
Dying of hunger in a land of surplus: Caste and corruption connive to keep
food from India's poor
India has for many years been one of the world's largest net exporters of
food. Common sense, or common decency, would tell you that the citizens of a
major net exporter of food must have enough food to survive. But no!
This report appeared recently in The Guardian (UK).
by Luke Harding in Baran, Rajasthan
When the crops failed and there was no work, the villagers of Mundiar began
searching for food in the jungle.
They didn't find any. Instead, they found grass. And so for most of the
summer, the village's 60 households got by eating sama - a fodder normally
given to cattle.
But humans are not supposed to eat grass and soon, the villagers, their
cheeks increasingly sunken, got weaker. They complained of constipation and
lethargy. Finally, they started dying.
One villager, Murari, watched his entire family slowly succumb. First his
father, Ganpat, died, followed by his wife Bordi. Four days later, he lost
"My daughter was lying on the floor of my hut. Her body suddenly started
shaking. The shaking stopped. I tried to wake her up. But she was dead. I
buried her in the jungle," Murari, a 25-year-old labourer, whose mother died
Across this remote part of north India - once covered in dense green forest
but now made barren by drought - it is the same story.
Over the past two months more than 40 members of the tribal Sahariya
community have starved to death. Their deaths could be explained if 21st
century India was more like southern Africa - a place prone to famine. But
Some 60 million surplus tonnes of grain are currently sitting in government
warehouses. This is, by any standards, a large food mountain.
Campaigners point out that stacked on top of each other, the sacks of wheat
would stretch to the moon. Unfortunately, none of them reached Mundiar or
any of the other more remote interior villages in south-eastern Rajasthan.
In the village of Bhoyal, three hours' drive from Baran, the nearest big
town, across a shimmering landscape of green eucalyptus trees and red-brown
earth, the evidence of chronic malnutrition is not hard to spot.
When we arrived, the Sahariyas were preparing a meal of cherata - wild
leaves boiled up with oil and salt. There was nothing else to eat. Their
children had swollen bellies. The adults were skeletal.
They were also fed up. "We went to the sarpanch [the village head] and asked
him for some grain. But he didn't give us any," one villager Prem, 45,
complained. He had been eating grass since July, he said. Several children
have died. "My baby died 16 days ago," one woman, Sukan, 25, said. "I didn't
have any milk. But then, I didn't have anything to eat."
Officially, nobody starves in India. Under a public distribution system,
villagers who sink below the poverty line are entitled to ration cards,
which allow them to buy subsidised grain from government shops.
But in Bhoyal, as elsewhere, the system has collapsed. The local sarpanch
handed out all the ration cards to cronies and members of his own caste, the
He also scratched out the names of widows entitled to government pensions.
The government shop-owners, meanwhile, refuse to sell the cheap grain to the
Instead, they get rid of it on the black market. When the Sahariyas started
dying, the shop-owners filled in their ration cards in an attempt to try to
conceal their scam.
Officials who are supposed to monitor the system rarely stir from their
offices. It is a scene as bleak as any devised by the doleful Indian
novelist Rohinton Mistry: millions of people are hungry in India not through
lack of food but because of massive official corruption, bureaucratic apathy
and political indifference.
It is a depressing paradox. Last month's starvation deaths are not the first
of their kind in India; dozens of tribal villagers died in the eastern state
of Orissa last year. But they have provoked a furious political reaction.
The authorities in Rajasthan have angrily denied that anybody has starved to
death and have accused Sankalp, the Indian non-governmental organisation
which raised the alarm of spreading "false rumours".
The victims merely succumbed to disease, the state's Congress party
administration has claimed, implausibly.
But the reality is that few political leaders in India have shown much
interest in preventing hunger -- especially among downtrodden lower caste
communities like the Sahariyas.
"The government can't get away with large-scale famine but it can get away
with chronic hunger," Jean Drèze, an academic and campaigner on food rights
said last night. "It has become an accepted part of life in India."
The deaths were perverse, he added. "I don't think in history there has been
so much food as there is in India today."
The levels of malnutrition in India - a country of 1 billion plus people --
are among the highest in the world. About one half of all Indian children
are malnourished, while nearly 50% of Indian women suffer from anaemia. And
yet most of the grain on India's vast food mountain is either thrown away or
eaten by rats.
It is those at the bottom of India's hierarchical caste system that suffer
The tribal communities, who account for 30% of Baran district's population,
are also the victims of historical injustice. Before independence in 1947,
the Sahariyas eked out a living by hunting and growing a few crops.
After independence, officials drove them out of the jungle and confiscated
their land. The Sahariyas were forced to seek jobs as agricultural
When the crops failed this summer, they had no work, and therefore nothing
"Politicians are not interested in us," one woman, Nabbo, 50, said, as she
prepared her evening meal of chapattis made from sama -- wild grass seed.
Each year, the world produces plenty of food for everyone, yet millions
starve to death. What policies do we most need for a future free from
poverty and hunger?
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