I don’t know if you came across a piece of news from Kolhapur, Maharashtra, published a few days back in several national dailies. No wonder you might have missed it, it was (purposely) snug in one tight corner of most papers like a hibernating animal, meant to be left untouched. Well, the news was that a twenty-seven-year-old, hungry man, Sunil Kuchakurni, returned to his neighborhood drunk and requested food from a neighbor who refused. Next, he went home and asked for food from his mother. With no food in the house, the mother-son had a fight and Sunil killed her mom. He then opened her chest and ate her heart with chutney and pepper. Yes, with chutney and pepper!
Nothing more appalling could have been written or read in recent times. Nothing more gruesome could have been undertaken! Absolutely Nothing!
I was stunned for good few minutes after reading the news and it took me a couple of days to sleep without thinking of Sunil Kuchakurni, his mother, her heart and his hunger! Which animal (and I use the word animal on purpose), in the whole animal kingdom would eat its mother’s heart even in a state of total inebriation and hunger? None. Or at least none to the best of my knowledge. We are told that a species called Tiger Salamander, a north American amphibian, can have a larva which can either evolve into a normal adult variety or develop into a cannibal morph larva which can eat its own species, moms included. Research shows that this cannibal form develops in response to unknown environmental stimuli. In Sunil Kuchakurni’s case, we probably know the stimulus which caused the treacherous mutation.
The horrifying incident raises many questions for the ‘civil’ society of this country to ponder on. To be ‘civil’ is to be shaken up to the core of your foundations of consciousness by incidents like the one in question. Deciphering the events, it is difficult to ignore any component of the act- the psychosis, alcohol, anger and hunger. Amongst these, it is hunger which stands out like an obnoxious sin (not on his part, but on part of us, the civil society!). For me, hunger could be the single most important tool for such heinous mutations. We know people under alcohol or anger commit most odious of crimes but I have never heard anything of this nature. To be hungry is to be vulnerable.
Despite years of rising Sensex and bullish markets, hunger continues to haunt the country like an evil curse. The 2016 Global Hunger Index (GHI) has placed India in the group of 50 countries with an “alarming” Hunger situation. At a GHI of 28.5 we are worse than some of the poorest nations on the planet and rank 97 in this “elite” list of shame which includes a total of 118 countries, a large number of which are known zones of conflict and hence their hunger population can be explained. It is even more painful that all countries of the subcontinent (except Pakistan) rank better than us in the list. A deeper analysis reveals that no doubt hunger mainly affects children, but adults too are vulnerable to hunger in high numbers particularly in ‘hunger endemic’ regions like India where social safety nets are either absent or strikingly dysfunctional. It is important to note that the United Nations declares famine when more than 20% of the population has less than 2100 kilocalories of food per day or/and malnutrition is seen in more than 30% of children and/or there are 2 deaths per 10000 people due to hunger. In India around 30% population has access to less than 2100 kilocalories per day and 44% children under the age of 5 years are underweight thereby qualifying for the criteria for famine. But famines are more political than we think and can only be declared by the government. Thus, the absence of a famine is not its actual absence on the ground but convenient and tacit ignorance of its presence. In the words of doctor-activist, Dr. Binayak Sen, India is in a state of “stable chronic famine” and rightly so. Hunger is known to result in stunting of growth and as per the Global Hunger Report, one in three children in India are stunted due to malnutrition. A total of 38.75% of children under the age of 5 years are stunted due to lack of food in our country.
The problem of hunger is best conquered by a determined political will. Governmental apathy is an addendum to the problem and its subsequent ill effects like stunting of growth. The solution lies in actually increasing the calorie intake of the vulnerable population. The means to do so are many but political willingness is the first step in achieving the target to eliminate hunger. Political will to increase calorie intake takes a beating when the contrary is revealed. The 2015-16 data from the Food Corporation of India revealed that 3000 tons of food grains were damaged during storage. To waste food in a country where hunger mutates humans to eat their mothers’ hearts is an even bigger sin!
Besides non-availability of adequate food, which is a multifactorial indicator of hunger state, poor accessibility to food also adds to food insecurity in this country. Incidence of poverty directly indicates the extent to which food is accessible and hence with rising levels of poverty, food accessibility is significantly compromised. Poor public distribution system and an absence of social security further complicates the issue in India.
Sunil Kuchakurni may be a symbol of utter disgust and hatred for most of us but his hunger is a message for those who occupy seats of power. A mother’s heart is too benevolent, filled with love and compassion for the world. We need to protect their tender hearts. We need to protect the likes of Sunil Kuchakurnis of our country from mutating into the cannibal larvae of Tiger Salamanders. It’s high time the government should realize that a hungry population is more dangerous than the most ferocious of hounds!
Prof. Shah Alam Khan, Department of Orthopaedics, AIIMS, New Delhi
(Views are Personal)