Of all the things that India is famous for, food will most probably be among the top five. It is amazing to see that every major city, in almost every country across the globe, has a buffet of Indian restaurants serving the best of Indian cuisine. Food is one of the major ingredients used in advertisement campaigns to lure tourists to India. And festivities in India are as much about food as they are about ceremonies.
The Advertisement Council of India in a report says that the Food and Beverages industry in India is worth $300 billion. And in terms of production, India is the third largest producer of food grains in the world (230 tonnes per year).
But it is rather a painful irony that, there are actually millions of children in India who still go to bed Hungry, their families unable to afford the simple, humble five rotis and sabji.
The 2010 Global Hunger Index (GHI) released by the International Food policy Research Institute ranked India a disgraceful 67th among 84 countries that it rated. The GHI is calculated using three major indicators – proportion of population undernourished prevalence of child malnutrition and rate of child mortality below five years of age.
Out of the three indicators, India has the worst stats in two that are about children. India is home to 42% of all the underweight children in the world. 5000 children die every day due to preventable diseases and about 47% of adolescent girls in India are undernourished.
Hunger and malnutrition. So rampant in a country which is supposed to have become self-sufficient in food production in the late 70s. It is truly a shame.
The proposed Right to Food Act by the UPA government is definitely much appreciated. Perceiving food as a right is indeed a bold move and as Amartya Sen says, “a step in the right direction.” And is a glimmer of hope to millions of children who go to bed hungry. But the ‘draft’ of the National Food Security Bill still remains a draft even after more than two years.
On the other hand, there are still confusions about the Below Poverty Line calculations and the planning commission presenting to the Supreme Court that people who earn Rs.32 are not poor, the number of children who will have to go to work might increase rapidly. The Bill also needs to include orphans too, especially child-headed households in the context of children affected by HIV and AIDS, where children mostly live with no adult caretakers. As such, innovative approaches are required to reach these populations of ‘out of school’, migrant children and orphan children.
India, generally has some of the best policies in the world. But, implementation is where we as a nation, and governments, have failed. Therefore, the new legislation needs to have systems and safeguards to ensure that the standards are largely met. The bill should include monitoring systems to measure changes in the wellbeing of families and individuals as a result of the public investment.
The feeble voices of 12.6 million child labourers in India, 4.6 million children out of school and the 57 million malnourished children are echoed in the words of Bishop Desmond Tutu – “I’m not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want my full menu of rights.”
Our politicians have to stand up to their accountabilities. The Right to Food Act has to be passed at the earliest.
The full menu of rights might take a while. But let’s start with the first on the menu. The very basic right to live - the right to food.