In a report published earlier this month, the International Food Policy Research Institute said that India has a “serious” hunger problem and ranks 97th out of 188 countries. Called the Global Hunger Index, the report claimed 15.2 percent of the country’s citizens are wasted, with 38.7 percent of children under the age of five stunted because of a lack of food. To the uninitiated, the concept of “wasted” refers to those children who receive so little food that their chances of death increase significantly. Amongst other factors, the lack of food results in the death of one out of every 20 children before they turn five. Despite the claims of superpower status, India has largely failed to provide its people with the freedom from hunger—a fundamental right. Even seemingly underdeveloped countries like Kenya, Malawi, and war-torn Iraq offer greater food security to its children than India, according to the report. One does not even have to go that far to establish damning comparisons. Besides Pakistan, all of India’s neighbours have attained a higher rank in the Global Hunger Index. It is not as if India does not possess the necessary legislative and logistical tools to tackle hunger. The midday meal scheme, anganwadi system and the historic National Food Security Act are just some of the tools available. But in a country, which spends abysmally low amounts of money on health and education, there is little hope for improvement. In the last three years since the food security law was passed, some state governments have expanded the provision of subsidised foodgrain. Led by the likes of West Bengal, the results of this inclusion are now showing on the ground. Other states need to catch up and attain these results.
In India, the growing problem of hunger needs to be a major talking point, especially during elections. But national media and politics have relegated hunger and malnutrition to the corners of public discourse. The apex court recently slammed the Centre for violating the National Food Security Act “with impunity” during the recent drought crisis. But this lazy approach to the critical legislature is not merely limited to the BJP. In a country with one of the highest rates of child mortality, a recent study found that only 3 percent of questions in Parliament were related to children. Many commentators have attributed the lack of reporting or viable political talking points on such issues to caste considerations. “There are few issues as emotive as hunger or dying children. Both politics and the media ignore them. The reasons are many, but maybe the most important is the elite capture of the national narrative by upper castes. India might have an alarming health crisis on its hands, but its unique caste system also means that upper castes are hermetically sealed off from the problem,” according to a recent column in Scroll.in, a popular Indian news website. Is that indeed the case?