Sep 16, 2009
A poor woman's prayer (one which inspired me to write this)
Our Baba, who art in jhopdis,
Degraded is your name.
Thy surveillance abounds
Thy will is mocked,
As pie in the sky.
Teach us to demand
Our share of gold
Forgive us our docility
As we demand our share of justice.
Lead us not into complicity
Deliver us from our fears.
For ours is thy sovereign
The power and the liberation
For ever and ever. Amen
Have you heard of the ambitious agenda of “UPA-2” to clear all slums in urban areas by 2015? Isn’t it too idealistic? Can we abolish all poverty at the grass root level? Whenever we think of poverty we remember horrifying images of African people. But poverty is very much in our country, though ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ did not portray it, in depth. I seen poor people everyday. One question that haunts me is that why they remain at the same level inspite of effort of NGO's and missionaries.
Yes, our world is vast and inhibited by large number of various living and non- living entities. Humans are the most developed of all. But how much do we live at that level? Why is so little concern for others just as a dog and a cat feel? There seems to be a great abyss between those who seem to enjoy everything and those who lack even the basic necessities of life. Why is there poverty when Mother earth possesses enough resources to feed all her children and ten times more? Can poverty be wiped out?
Amartya Sen’s telling remarks; “While one part of humanity is desperate to search for food to eat, another part counts the calories and is on the look out for ways to slim (size zero)” is ever true and realistic.
Ever sixth undernourished child is an Indian.
Every third infant in UP has low birth weight.
Malnutrition in India accounts to 50% of child deaths in India.
1.5 million children are at the risk of malnourishment today.
Have we ever realized what a poor hungry man feels? Can one who strives hard all day, still desire to live? The one who becomes victim to poverty and hunger burns up his/her body fats, muscles and tissues for fuel. His body literally consumes itself and deteriorates rapidly. This in turn affects the brain, kidney, liver and endocrine system. The defence mechanism collapses and evermore becomes fatal. This leads to loss of body weight and death of infants.
If we turn the pages of history of famine, violence and riots; they seem to have scarcely affected all sections of society. Usually it is only the lower strata, the helpless labourers, agriculturists, peasants, nomads and urban destitutes, dalits and adivasis that have to suffer.
Hunger and poverty are inter-related. Poverty exists not because of lack of commodities but because the weak are deprived of their right to have. The mere presence of food in the market doesn’t entitle one to take possession of it. Poverty is not the problem. Rather it is the fact that the rich have the power to control the economy. They have control over policies that affect the poor.
The FAO (Food & Agricultural Agency) says “It is not the lack of food that causes hunger and poverty but lack of sharing”.
If we look at the grass root level, we realize that the following facts must be addressed and soon.
1) Food is in abundance for the affluent while the weak get minimum and thus remain undernourished. (Over consumption in some countries has led to deaths in Africa).
2) Though modern technology can provide for the needs of all and more, it has mostly served to degrade the environment and jeopardize health.
3) Some groups exercise total control over decisions regarding food and selfishly seek their vested interests.
Jean Paul Sarte very well said, “When the rich wage war, it is the poor who die and it is a lack of caring and sharing and not food scarcity that is basic”. According to the UN, food production is growing in arithmetical progression while population is increasing in geometric progression. His does not entitle us to blame the growing population. In fact there is lack of caring and sharing and not food. Robert Giuliani once asked, whether our technology is moving too fast in the wrong direction. Research must help us to solve the problems. But it is being used only to satisfy our greed. Boyd said, “Hunger is a greater danger for the future than the atomic bomb”.
No longer can we shrug off poverty as God’s will or Nature’s law or the result of ones karma. We cannot wipe it out unless certain strata of people in power make a deliberate choice to care and share. The clash between the humanitarian and political considerations about food, needs to be faced boldly. Invariably on most occasions the latter wins.
The Indian Context:
Sociologically speaking, there are two separate boundaries within our country: The BIG cities with the latest amenities and modern technology – India, and the rural mass of farmers and peasants, adivasis and discriminated dalits – Bharat. We can say that often there are ‘refugees from Bharat in India’. But have we ever realized that it is these Bharatiyas that make our living easy? It is they that build our roads, apartments, houses, flyovers, gardens etc. It is they who collect our garbage and drive our trains and buses.
The Govt Pay commission describes poverty as “the minimum diet required for moderate human activity- sufficient for basic moral, physical, psychological, intellectual and spiritual growth”.
Our country is the world’s largest food-producing country, yet what Lester Brown (of World Watch Institute) says “India may have to import 45 million tones of grains by 2030 is breath taking.
The Ground situation
India has the 94th position in Global hunger index among 119 countries. Facts show that women and children are the most affected lot. More than 27% of world’s undernourished children (below 5 years) are in India. Many mothers are impoverished. 1/3 of babies in India are born underweight, 3/5 of pregnant mothers suffer from anaemia. One out of every 4 mothers in our country dies in child birth. In February, 2009, UNICEF reported that UP, our most populous state is the riskiest of all places for babies especially the newborn. Vice president Hamid Karzai said at a function that being born in UP reduces ones life span by several years. Research has revealed that most such children belong to the weaver class in UP. Mumbai too is not far behind.
Last year, when UP government reported that the per capita income the state had jumped up 4.03 %, two-year old Shaheena Parveen, who weighed 3 Kg, breathed her last. Days before she collapsed, her two-year old neighbour, Sahabuddin had died. Alina 18 months, 2 Kg) and Vidhi (2 years, 3Kg) died due to malnutrition. Today several children in Varanasi await a similar future. UP’s situation is a reminder to us all of the dire need to act.
Poverty today is not a natural phenomenon. It is artificial havoc created by humans due to their greed. It mainly arises from the deprivation of entitlement. Ultimately it is not how well you eat that makes you a healthy human, but the way you care and share.
Friends, it’s time to think and act. We need to accept the hard core truth about poverty. We need to decide to make policies keeping in mind the larger majority that work for our well-being. Let’s stop eating junk and fast food so often and generously give what the poor are entitled to get as human beings. May Bharat and India unite one day. May this poor woman’s prayer above open the eyes of many as it opened mine too.
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