Even as the print media and television channels are flooded with advertising inviting the middle class to purchase luxury goods and services ranging from smart TVs, consumer durables, SUVs and foreign holidays during Diwali/Deepavali, the latest Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2022 report published by Concern Worldwide and Welthungerhilfe (Germany) ranks India #107 among 122 countries surveyed. Neighbours Sri Lanka (64), Nepal (81), Bangladesh (84) and Pakistan (99) are awarded higher rank in terms of demonstrated capability to feed their population.
According to GHI 2022, the incidence of mass hunger — especially child malnutrition in India — is “serious”. Contrary to official bombast proclaiming the world’s highest GDP growth rate and its allure for foreign investment, shining India fares poorly on all four parameters of GHI — undernourishment, child stunting, child wasting and child mortality — indicative of “multidimensional nature of hunger”. An estimated 16.3 percent of the country’s population is undernourished, 35.5 percent of children are stunted, under-five child mortality is 3.3 percent and percentage of children suffering wasting, i.e, disproportionate body weight to height at 19 percent is highest worldwide.
Unsurprisingly, the reaction of the BJP government at the Centre is outrage. In an official statement dated October 15, the Union ministry of women and child development says the GHI report is an “effort to taint India’s image” and accuses the authors of the detailed 60-page report of “spreading misinformation”. Yet GHI 2022 is not the first international survey to highlight pervasive child malnutrition and stunting in India. For several decades, international organisations such as the Unicef and World Bank have been drawing attention to severe child malnutrition and stunting here.
Most recently, a Unicef report Child Food Poverty: A Nutrition Crisis in Early Childhood says that two in five of India’s children live in “severe food poverty”. In particular, during the past two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, 36 million citizens slipped below the country’s rock-bottom poverty line and millions of children denied their free, in-school mid-day meal, bore the brunt.
The plain unvarnished truth that the establishment and intelligentsia need to acknowledge is that meagre output growth in terms of food, clothing, shelter, education and healthcare services — the consequence of adopting the inorganic Soviet-inspired socialist development model — has been cornered by the country’s 350 million middle class. The remainder population of over 1 billion citizens ill-served by the 20 million-strong bureaucracy which has stifled wealth generation by imposing crippling controls on business and industry, has been left to fend for itself, with over 134 million citizens eking out precarious lives on less than $2 per day. Yet the political and self-serving middle classes are unwilling to change the status quo, ignoring the piteous cries of millions of food, education and healthcare deprived children.
This situation cannot endure. The country’s intelligentsia, if not the foolish political class, needs to note that extreme deprivation in spreading slums of urban India and large swathes of the rural hinterland is fast approximating conditions of pre-1789 France and pre-1917 Russia that precipitated the French and Russian revolutions.