For all the triumphalist speechifying about steady progress towards transforming the country into a $5 trillion economy by 2025 and putting a man on the moon in the near future, the latest evidence that contradicts prime minister Narendra Modi’s statement repeated in eight languages in Houston, Texas, before a cheering audience of diaspora Indians that “everything is fine”, is the Global Hunger Index (GHI) Report 2019.
Prepared jointly by Irish aid agency Concern Worldwide and German organisation Welt Hunger Hilfe, and released on October 15, the latest GHI ranks India #102 of 117 countries, way below neighbouring China (#25) and lower than Myanmar (69), Bangladesh (88), Nepal (73) and Pakistan (94). The GHI score is calculated on four metrics of children under age 5 — undernourishment (insufficient calories intake); child wasting, (low weight relative to height); stunting (low height relative to age) and mortality rate (reflecting fatal mix of inadequate nutrition and unhealthy environment). According to the GHI Report 2019, the percentage of wasted and stunted under 5 children in India is 20.8 and 37.9 percent respectively. Considering the population of under 5 children in India is 164 million, the number of wasted and stunted children is a shocking 34 million and 62 million respectively.
Unsurprisingly, no major political leader has chosen to comment on this disgraceful wastage of human capital of unprecedented scale. That’s because the neta-babu brotherhood clearly lacks the skill-sets to safeguard and nurture the country’s infants and children who suffer neglect and malnutrition on a mass scale due to a combination of factors. These include continuous under-funding of the country’s 1.36 million anganwadis (nutrition centres for newborns and lactating mothers also mandated to provide early childhood education); an inefficient public food distribution system; pervasive adult illiteracy and callous establishment and middle class disregard for children in bottom-of-pyramid households.
Inevitably, standard excuses such as size and diversity of the child population and its dispersal across India’s huge landmass will be — and are — routinely advanced. But it’s worthy of note that all our neighbour countries are confronted with similar challenges and are managing them better. It’s especially galling that despite huge wrong turns such as the Great Leap Forward (1958) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-68) during which famine stalked the land, communist China is ranked way above India in GHI 2019.
The lesson to be learned from India’s shameful ranking in GHI 2019 is that all our neighbour countries invest a greater percentage of their GDP in public primary education, health and human capital development. It’s this enduring blind-spot of post-independence India’s establishment and intelligentsia that has brought this latest shame and disgrace upon this country.