(Image downloaded from internet)
((This article was originally written more than four years ago but the issues raised are valid for a long time to come.)
Mankind’s second-biggest challenge is chronic hunger that is slowly killing millions.
A diehard criminal, Yakub Memon, was held guilty of killing large numbers of innocent people by the highest court, the most respected institution of democratic India. Even if you consider the rejection of mercy petitions to the constitutional authorities as influenced by non-judicial considerations, the judges of the Supreme Court of India spent hundreds of hours to go through all the documents and to hear all the arguments, for as well as against, till the midnight preceding the hanging before putting its final seal on the order.
As the time of Memon’s hanging came closer, those opposed to it became more and more vocal and continued to beat their breasts even after the court order was executed. While some individuals did so for purely political gains or publicity, some were claiming that they were shocked because they are against capital punishment as such. Then we had the media that provides more than desired publicity, especially to those doing so for political gains. Those running the media might have their own views but the episode definitely provided an opportunity to do good business. Just imagine the billions of words printed in newspapers and thousands of hours of discussions on TV channels. People like Owaisi got all the publicity they needed to gather more support in a section of the population.
The purpose of my writing this piece is not to enter into debate on the death penalty to Memon or to anyone else. My purpose is to pose a bigger question to the media as well as those who are beating their breasts. I ask all those speaking or writing against Memon’s hanging on the ground that human life is valuable and should be protected at all costs: is only one life – whether it is Memon’s or someone else’s – so important an issue before the society that billions of words should appear in the print media and thousands of hours of debates should take place on TV channels?
My question is, how much debate has taken place on TV channels or in the print media on a much bigger crime against humanity, the crime of causing the slow death of millions who are chronically hungry?
What is most shocking is that in our country, for the last 70 years, the politicians have been promising to remove the curse of poverty. In the election manifesto released before the December 1945 general election, the Congress party stated that “The most vital and urgent of India’s problems is how to remove the curse of poverty and raise the standards of the masses.” Since then it has been repeated ad nauseam before every election. Even then more than 194 million Indians are starving today. India is home to one-third of the hungry in the world. India is home to one-third of malnourished children in the world. About one-fourth of under-five deaths are in India. According to the latest thinking in the NITI Aayog (successor to the Yojna Aayog), about 40% of the Indian population needs subsidy for survival.
Those leading comfortable life whose heart bleeds at the news of death sentence given to a diehard criminal should spare some time to think of consequences of starvation. According to the World Health Organisation, hunger is the single gravest threat to the world’s public health. The starving people die a slow death every day. The shocking number of starving people in India is said to be because of their poverty and solution is to create more job and improve their income. There is nothing wrong with this solution per se. Every government has been claiming to be working in that direction. At the same time, every government has been telling the people that revenue collection is not enough to meet all the expectations.
Despite all the tall claims to remove poverty, every government has been giving enormous fiscal concessions to the rich because super-rich is powerful enough to influence government policy decisions. According to a report, ‘India’s top 1% holds close to half of the country’s total wealth; the country’s richest 10%, getting steadily richer, especially post-liberalisation, hold nearly three-fourth of total wealth; as a result, while the US dominates the world’s rich and China dominates the global middle class, India dominates world’s poorest.’
What needs to be underlined is that our country as such has no dearth of wealth nor has its shortage of food grains. While the rich are accumulating more and more wealth at the cost of the rest of society, the successive governments have completely mismanaged food storage and distribution. According to a UNDP report, about 40% of the total food production in India is wasted or damaged. According to estimates available in public domain (on the internet), India loses about 21 million tonnes of wheat alone every year. According to the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion, Government of India, farm produce worth Rs. ten million is lost every year. Food grains rot in covered and open godowns while millions of poor go without food every year.
Estimates may differ but anyone whose heart bleeds at the news of death sentence given to a diehard criminal should spare some time to think of the consequences of chronic starvation.
If we call ourselves civilised, such a serious problem should be raised every day everywhere; print media and TV channels should discuss it every day until the biggest blot on civilisation is removed. The problem should be tackled in the same way in which disaster is tackled because of the slow death of millions of people is nothing less than a disaster.
Unfortunately, nothing like this is going to happen because the issue is not as ‘sensational’, not as ‘newsy’ as the hanging of a criminal. It will not have market value. It will not raise TRP (Television Rating Point). The readers would have no interest in reading every day the same boring topic. The viewers would move to TV channels showing something interesting.
Mankind would continue to be the biggest enemy of mankind
Mankind’s first biggest challenge: Need to restrict the right to reproduce
Some commentators (not here) have remarked that the real problem is mal-distribution as well as wastage of food. There is some merit in the argument but the rapidly growing population is the biggest culprit. Moreover, ‘man does not live by bread alone.’
This is part II of essays on the biggest challenges before mankind. Link to Part I is “Need to restrict the right to reproduce”