poverty in india

‘ Sujalam suphalam bharat desh mein
Roti mehengi kyon rey bhai’

(In the country of Bharat where there is plenty of water and resources
Why is roti very costly?)

From ‘Bharat apna Mahan Bhumi’

Performed by Revolutionary Cultural Front , the song originally written by poet and singer Gaddar is translated into Hindi by revolutionary poet/ singer Villas Ghogre

Poverty and hunger are common features of India. The Global Hunger Index has further exposed this truth in a report prepared by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) . The report said, ‘ India is ranked 100th out of 119 countries, and has the third- highest score in all of Asia – only Afghanistan and Pakistan are ranked worse’. The report further said that at 31.4, India’s GHI (Global Hunger Index) of 2017 is at the high end of ‘ serious ‘ category and is one of the main factors pushing South Asia to the category of worst performing region on GHI followed closely by Africa south of Sahara. In an article analysing India’s low performances in most development indexes, Mohan Guruswamy ( How Hungry is India and Why? 20 October 2018, thecitizen.in) says, ‘ Hunger in India is not a consequence of not producing enough food. It is a consequence of very many people not having enough money to spend on food, sometimes even for bare sustenance’.

Poverty amidst plenty

While there were over 190.7 million people who were undernourished in 2014, the number has increased since then. According to FAO estimates in ‘ The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018’ report, 195.9 million people are undernourished in India. ( Hunger in India, www.indiafoodbanking.org) . That is ,14.8% of people are undernourished. India has the largest undernourished population and yet, total foodgrains produced reached an all time high of 251.12 Million tonnes (MT) in FY15. Total Rice and Wheat production stood at 102.54 MT and 90.78 MT respectively. Thus, distribution of food is a primary cause of starvation and deaths.

Some factors

Most important factor for hunger is that food remains inaccessible to most poor people. Much food is wasted which may feed thousands of people. Indians waste as much food as the whole of United Kingdom consumes. According to United Nations Development Programme, upto 40% of food produced in India is wasted. (Food Wastage in India: A Serious Concern, September 10, 2015, thecsrjournal.in). According to agriculture ministry, about Rs. 50,000 crore worth of food is wasted every year.

Another factor relates to the small size of land holdings. There are about 58% of rural households depend on agriculture for their livelihood. According to 2011 census, there are about 118. 9 million cultivators across the country in addition to 144 million landless labourers . Both together constitute about 22% of the population. About 65 per cent of farmland consists of marginal and small farms less than one hectare in size. The average holding size has halved since 1970 to 1.05 ha. As per 2001 census, about 490 million people depend on small farms. This reflects the spread of poverty.

Also, poverty and hunger is more in lower castes because of low and pathetic wage levels. They are well below the level of minimum wage prescribed by government in construction, marginal labor, agriculture labor, unorganized labour, etc.

Another cause of hunger is high rate of unemployment specially among lower castes and sections of society. They go without food for days due to unavailability of enough money.

Adding to misery, the present system of identification has contributed to starvation deaths. PDS , which assisted many poor to get ration in time, became inaccessible due to technical glitches for identification. Many women and children died of hunger due to unavailability of monthly ration in states like Odisha and Jharkhand.

Poor healthcare system also led to deaths of rural poor who could not afford medication to get treated for malnutrition. The starved people in tribal areas were not provided with adequate medicines for improving health and alleviating from hunger.


Thus, hunger and starvation is mostly not due to unavailability of food but apathy of the rulers . Unequal distribution of wealth and resources widened gap between rich and poor. While rich had many amenities, the poor did not have minimum money for subsistence. The gap is increasing. Hunger and starvation is rising though there are plenty of resources that can be distributed. Food production is rising but deaths due to starvation continue unabated. India is truly, a rich country with poor people. The system has created more hungry people because of the hegemony of elites controlling wealth of the country. According to a Johannesburg – based company,New World Wealth,India is the second most unequal country globally with millionaires controlling 54% of its wealth. (Inequality in India: what is the real story?, 4 Oct 2016, weforum.org). The richest 1% own 53% of wealth according to latest data by Credit Suisse. Richest 5% own 68.6% and top 10% own 76.3% . The poorer half has only 4.1% of national wealth. Thus, there is a long way to go to reduce income gap and consequently hunger and starvation deaths of poor.

The writer from everywhere and anywhere is inspired by the life and lyrics of Gaddar who works for the poor and the voiceless. The lyric
‘ Aagadu aagadu aagadu
Aakali pooru aagadu ‘
( Yeh rukney waala nahi hai
Yeh bhuk ka sangharsh rukta nahi hai –
Hindi free translation)

( It will not stop , It will not stop
The struggle for eradicating hunger will not stop)
Is an inspiration.

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