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Even Though India’s Granaries Are Overflowing, The Number Of Starving People Is Shocking!

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Empty stomachs speak languages only the heart can hear, the cries of starvation have now turned soundless, voices should be raised, and actions should be taken before this becomes too severe.

The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world. Hunger has been chasing us for time immemorial. In 1943, about 1.5 million people had starved to death in Bengal due to a famine, a tragedy of unprecedented magnitude. Periods of famines in India have also been times of high food prices and agricultural unemployment. Even though our country is no longer exposed to ‘real famines’ due to development in the agricultural sector, still millions of people starve even when the country’s granaries are overflowing.

It may be difficult to believe that our own country is home to a quarter of the world’s undernourished people, which is about 194.6 million people.

Anaemia (the deficiency of red blood cells or haemoglobin in the blood) affects about 59% of children in our country.

Speeches have been given, funds have been sanctioned, treasuries have been filled, however, hunger still thrives. Even though India had accepted the First Millennium development goals of the United Nations Organisation in the year 2000, which clearly stated the target of halving hunger by 2015, not much progress can be observed in India.

For most of us, making common lifestyle sacrifices, such as cutting down on unnecessary calories is now an important part of living a healthy life. We never consciously understand the fact that lack of access to proper nutrition is not only fueling obesity but is also leading to food insecurity and hunger among several others.

Food insecurity is an issue that is subconsciously understood but consciously ignored. Food security only emerges when all people at all times have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. Food insecurity no longer remains to be an issue of charity but has now turned out to become an issue of justice.

Food security has three important and closely related components, which are affordability of food, availability of food, and quality of food.

In rural areas, food insecurity is mainly prevalent due to lack of improvement in agricultural productivity owing to inadequate resources and agriculturally unstable markets. The three components involved in making any scheme or a plan successful, are adequate planning, proper execution, and means of spreading awareness.

But instead of learning from our mistakes, we have continued to commit the same mistakes again and again. For example, the Government decreased the expenditure for rural development in the country’s Net National Product (NNP) in 2004-05  from 3.8% to 2.3%. This adversely affected the availability and expansion of irrigation facilities, improvement in agricultural technology and overall foodgrain output.

Lack of education and job opportunities in rural areas have further fueled the problems, which all integrate to form food insecurity.

The problem of food insecurity in urban areas has been addressed on paper, but is yet to be acted upon; this affects a large proportion of the informal workforce. It results in an unplanned growth of slums, which lack basic health and hygiene facilities and suffer from increased food insecurity. Most of the insecure people in urban areas are from the informal sector, where they receive their daily employment wages which tend to be variable on different dates. Due to the fluctuation in their daily wages during some days they are hardly able to consume two proper square meals.

The indicators of food insecurity in our country are the huge number of health problems these underprivileged citizens have to undergo. This can be observed from the table below:

Survey of 2015 – 16
Category Urban (%) Rural (%) Total (%)
Children aged 6-23 months receiving an adequate diet Breastfeeding 10.1 8.2 8.7
Non-beastfeeding 16.9 12.7 14.3
Total 11.6 8.8 9.6
Children under 5 years who are Stunted (height-for-age) 31.0 41.2 38.4
Wasted (weight-for-height) 20.0 21.5 21.0
Severely wasted (weight-for-height) 7.5 7.4 7.5
Underweight (weight-for-age) 29.1 21.5 21.0
Body Mass Index (BMI) is below normal (BMI < 18.5 kg m-2) Women 15.5 26.7 22.9
Men 15.3 23.0 20.2
People who are anaemic (Red Blood Cell count in g dL-1) Children aged 6-59 months (< 11.0) 55.9 59.4 58.4
Women aged 15-49 years (< 12.0) 50.8 54.2 53.0
Men aged 15-49 years (< 13.0) 18.4 25.2 22.7

This might sound unbelievable but our country is home to over one-third of the worlds stunted (chronically malnourished) children. 62 million children under the age of 5 in India are stunted. Progress can definitely be observed however India still lags behind many poorer countries. If progress continues at this rate, India will achieve the current stunting rate of Ghana only by 2030 and that of China by 2055.

Anaemia (the deficiency of red blood cells or haemoglobin in the blood) affects about 59% of children in our country. It has also remained the top cause of disability in India for 10 years now. Anaemia can considerably reduce the work capacity of individuals and entire populations, and bring serious economic consequences and obstacles to national development.

It also caused 20% of maternal deaths in India and was the associate cause in 50% of all maternal deaths in 2014. The leading causes of anaemia in India again come down to poverty and poor sanitation.

Every year, the government assigns a certain amount of buffer stocks of grains in order to meet any emergencies like droughts, famines, failures of the crop, etc., as well as to enable open market intervention in case of price rise. However, due to poor upkeep, the food that was supposed to be utilized in Public Distribution System (PDS) for rationing and to tide over emergencies, normally rots or is either eaten away by rats.

The Food Corporation of India (FCI) has allowed 46,658 tonnes of food grains to rot in its 1,889 warehouses across the country, between 2014-2016, while another 143.74 tonnes of grains were reported to be stolen.

The Food Corporation of India (FCI) has allowed 46,658 tonnes of food grains to rot in its 1,889 warehouses across the country, between 2014-2016 – this could have fed nearly 8 lakh people from priority families under the National Food Security Act for an entire year..

Together, this could have fed nearly 8 lakh people from priority families under the National Food Security Act for an entire year. Another big issue related to Buffer Stocks and the PDS is the Minimum Support Price (MSP).

Minimum support price was initially started as a safety net for farmers, through a guarantee that if their produce is left unsold in the market, it will be bought by the government. However, this practice to incentivize farmers has now backfired as it has led to persistent inflation.

The government spends an average of  9,700 crores on midday meals, but instead of providing nutrition, these meals have turned into a weapon, due to which, every year, hundreds of innocent children fall ill. As the identification of poor by the states is not foolproof, many poor people are left out of the BPL (Below Poverty Line) Ration Cardholders list, and many others make fake cards, in order to procure grains at subsidized rates. Not just this, many a time, the food grains under this scheme are sold in open markets to gain more profits.

To achieve complete food security and to ensure proper nutrition for every citizen in our country, funds have to be utilised properly. All the taxes paid by a common man are not being used to its fullest. There is a need for issues to be prioritised where assets and liabilities of each decision should be mapped out.

Our government has definitely taken some good decisions as well, such as the National Food Security MissionRashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY), the Integrated Schemes on Oilseeds, Pulses, Palm oil and Maize (ISOPOM)Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, and the e-marketplace.

The state of Maharashtra’s Nutrition Mission – a public declaration of intent to reduce malnutrition – also has led to a rapid decline in stunting rates. However, what matters is the proper implementation and execution of these schemes. In the end, it is all down to us citizens, because every human being strives for significance, but people always make mistakes if they do not recognise that their significance lies in their contribution to the lives of others.

If we join our hands to help someone starving we can save 7000 of our brothers and sisters every day.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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