Hunger Games

hunger 2

Reports of people suffering and dying as a result of famines are not novel to our country. Kalahandi and Kashipur in Odisha, Baran in Rajasthan, Palamau and Manjhladi in Jharkhand, and Jalhi Bongia in Bihar are among the many districts that are impacted by endemic poverty.

The top-down approach that many claim to have used to analyse the entire issue is what we are currently looking at, but it portrays a far deeper picture. The main menace lies concealed from sight underneath the pyramid, facing the earth.

There are unquestionably several food distribution and employment programmes that exist, thanks to the state and the federal government, but deaths from starvation and malnutrition nevertheless occur frequently.

When taking into account the famine-affected areas, failure of the Public Distribution System (PDS) and the administrative machinery, a lack of resources and food security, and the absence of a national strategy to combat the famine are frequently cited as the causes of the catastrophe. However, India’s massive food grain buffer supply makes it evident that the persistent famine in these areas is a result of poverty.

Only approximately 30% of the population resides in metropolitan areas, where about 85% of PDS supplies are distributed. States with significant populations living below the poverty line, like Orissa and Bihar, are not given additional weight for allocating the remaining 15%.

Despite an increase in macroproduction, according to economist K N Kabra of the Indian Institute of Public Administration in New Delhi, people are dying in Orissa and Bihar because there is no microfood security.” Additionally, Orissa’s PDS entitlement is quite low. People simply do not have the purchasing ability to buy anything, including fair pricing shops (FPS), which typically thrive in the underground market during widespread food shortages.”, he adds.

In the areas where most of the marginalised population of India resides, hunger is a calamity. Four decades ago, Amartya Sen argued in Food Battles: Conflicts in the Access to Food that the media plays a major role in preventing mass hunger deaths in democratic societies. The existence of a free press, he argues, allows for the spread of knowledge on severe poverty and hunger, which incites opposition parties and citizens to mitigate egregious social and economic inequalities. ‘The government cannot afford to fail to take prompt action when large-scale starvation threatens,’ he wrote in an article. ‘Newspapers play an important part in this, making facts known and forcing challenges to be faced.’ The 2001 Right to Food Case was spurred by media reports on starvation deaths in Rajasthan at a time when public storage silos held over 50 million metric tonnes of grains.

Because of the media spotlight given to “starvation deaths,” “hunger” has become politicised. However, the truth is that famine is not the only cause of death. Deaths occur as a result of a cruel combination of social marginalisation and a lack of access to essential services, including healthcare and water sanitation. It can be challenging to distinguish between chronic malnutrition, hunger, and starvation, as numerous examples have demonstrated. Impoverished health and prolonged periods without enough intake of nourishing food are frequent problems in India, which contribute to the development of calamities.

Looking at the pyramid by standing underneath it where most of the deprived people are, we would get to know that these ‘schemes’, ‘facilities’ and ‘funds’ only reach people when somebody dies. When the cases of numerous migrant workers and employees from underprivileged areas are looked into, it becomes readily apparent that the officials fail to carry out their assigned duties. They keep delegating their responsibilities to higher-ups or other authorities, and the victim always comes last in this tiresome chain of parcel-passing, or worse, never at all. As said by Ashwin Parulkar in his research and surveys in the compilation, ‘Dispossessed’, the denial of authorities is the most pervasive and alarming of these issues. Public officials are reluctant to acknowledge that starvation deaths occur at all, or when those programmes are rife with corruption and negligence, it may appear futile to trust local state machinery to fix the problems in the system, even though the Supreme Court has instructed officials in these cases to investigate right-to-food programmes and fix problems in them when hunger deaths occur. Some government officials have even asserted that although individuals experienced hunger, no one ever passed away from it, and even if they had, it was not exceptional. If noticed, the failure to hold officials accountable results from the widespread belief that endemic poverty is a normal aspect of life in several historically disenfranchised areas of this country. This apathy towards the condition of poverty, is a social crime. This has perished to the extent that people don’t want to ‘believe’ in the fact that starvation deaths take place at all.

On March 29, 2023, the government claimed no state or Union Territory (UT) had reported any cases of death due to starvation in India.


“Not a single state government or UT administration has reported any incident of death due to starvation, Piyush Goyal, minister for food and public distribution, told the Lok Sabha. Even though the Global Health Index (GHI) has ranked India 107th out of 121 countries in 2022 with a level of hunger that is serious, Smriti Irani stated in the Lok Sabha that it does not reflect India’s true picture as it is a flawed measure of “hunger.

People in this country will believe in superstitions like considering misfortune if a black cat crosses their path, but they will not accept the fact that people are starving to death. How long will this neglect persist? And even if we were to assert that reports of hunger-related mortality have decreased in recent years, what assurance would there be that they would have reached us or even been published, given that our country’s press only enjoys the barest minimum of freedom, as measured by the World Press Freedom Index? Even after being put into place, schemes and programmes clearly fall short of reaching the disadvantaged due to the ineptitude of government employees. The stories of those who dwell beneath the pyramid still only exist as muffled echoes behind the veils of ignorance.

Asmi Gupto is a student of humanities and is currently working as a content writer in several non profit organisations.

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