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Is India fit?

High on obesity and malnutrition, India fights to get fit. But, are there more illnesses plaguing the country than just the physical?

Is India fit?

Fitness challenges seem to be the rage today. From ripped sportspersons to the very visibly out-of-shape politicians, everyone is out to prove their fitness quotient. It is laughable that politicians with rotund paunches claim to be fit and others who look like they have never exercised in their life wax eloquent about their fitness regimes. It, however, is a healthy bandwagon to get onto.

The older you get, the more you struggle to stay fit. Unfortunately, for many of us, being fit means getting into those skinny jeans or having a beach-ready body. True fitness though is not only about how you look; it is about strength, stamina and agility. As a young TV journalist, I ravaged my body for years. Poor eating habits, lack of exercise, punishing work hours and copious intakes of alcohol were normal. During those years, youth bore the brunt of indiscipline and, outwardly at least, the anatomy looked and felt great. A decade later, however, the debilitating effects of a high-pressure work life started to show, and I too struggled to turn back the slowing metabolic rate.

Social media with its cyberbullying and unsavoury comments along with its 'picture perfect' people, does not add to a positive body image. Our ambition often becomes to look like that actor or model, whose job, by the way, is to look good. That is what they are paid for, among other things. The rest of us are not. But we aspire for that perfection too. The race becomes not to actually be fit but just to look it. And, if exercising and fad diets will not do it, there is always help coming from a doctor.

India is fighting growing obesity with numbers set to increase to 5 per cent by 2025 from 3 per cent in 2014. Studies conducted in Delhi schools have found that 22 per cent of the children are overweight and 6 per cent are obese. A contrarian country by all counts, India leads in its underweight population (40 per cent of Indian children are underweight) and also ranks in the top five in obesity!

A country that is still fighting poverty and malnutrition, how fit can we really be? And does fitness only extend to physical fitness, what about mental and intellectual fitness? There is a malaise plaguing our nation; it is the infirmity of not understanding dissent. Divergent views, different opinions, liberal thought often pays the price. And, no one protects us. The brazenness with which voices of reason are being stomped upon should serve as a wake-up call for all.

On Thursday, senior journalist, Shujaat Bukhari's body was riddled with bullets. Bukhari had always advocated peace for the strife-ridden Kashmir valley. Even though he had police protection since 2000, it did not stop his assailants from committing this dastardly act. Gauri Lankesh, MM Kalburgi, and Narendra Dabholkar, also paid with their lives for standing up to irrational thinking. At an age, where people crawl when asked to bend, who is protecting people like them?

The country definitely needs to get fit. It needs to fight poverty and hunger. It needs to cope with new diseases and obesity. But most importantly, India must prove that there is a law of the land, that politicians and leaders think about their citizens' well-being and safety. India must show that divergent views are safe and her citizens and journalists can voice opinions without fear or favour. India must prove that she is 'fit' to be called a democracy.

(The writer is a journalist and media entrepreneur. The views expressed are strictly personal)

Shutapa Paul

Shutapa Paul

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