The shocking statistics on hunger and malnourishment in India motivated the Indian Women Theologians’ Forum to focus fully on it at our annual meeting in Mumbai last weekend. The title and theme for the event was Food for the Hungry – Towards an Indian Feminist Theology of Transformation
. Despite India’s claims of economic growth and abundant grain surpluses beyond the capacity for safe storage, an alarming number of people still go hungry. The realities of economics and politics, and the exclusive tendencies of our entrenched caste system clearly add to this hunger. But it’s not just a hunger for food; people are also hungry for social inclusion and recognition. We strongly feel that the strategies adopted by the government in the name of development have served only to feed corporate greed. This has resulted in alienation of people from their lands, suicides among farmers, the loss of bio-diversity and of tribal peoples' traditional knowledge. It has pushed vast numbers of people to migrate to urban areas, where they can only swell the ranks of India’s poor. The results are plain to see. At 230 million, India has the world’s highest number of undernourished people. Malnutrition accounts for 50 per cent of its child deaths. In Maharashtra alone, 77 children die of it every day. A Food Security Bill has been passed in parliament, but we feel that it is inadequate and flawed. Talking of parliamentary laws, we are truly alarmed by the introduction of the Seed Bill, which dictates whether small farmers can develop their own seeds, effectively handing control to the corporates and opening the door to genetically modified crops. Reflecting on the faith life of the Church in India in this context, we are deeply troubled to discover an alienation from the stark reality that large sections of the people are chronically hungry. We also observe a disconnect between the priorities of the Church’s education institutions and the survival struggles of indigenous and other marginalized sections of society. There is little attempt to address their needs and preserve their traditional wisdom and practices. The celebration of the Eucharist has become ritualistic. We have lost sight of the vision of Jesus who shared bread with the multitudes, excluding no one from his table, ultimately breaking bread in the giving of himself as food for all. Bread is the symbol of communion, togetherness and interconnectedness, uniting the divine, the human and the cosmic. We are convinced that our Eucharist will return to a deeper meaning when the Church truly involves itself in the various efforts to alleviate hunger. At the start of the Year of Faith, we feel called to join hands and support people’s struggles for justice and a world free of hunger. We understand New Evangelization as entering into the struggles of people for a life lived with dignity. We take it as an opportunity to sow new seeds of faith that an alternative society is possible; a society where we all can live as children of God, beyond the discrimination of gender, caste and class, sharing and caring together for the Earth that has been entrusted to us. We commit ourselves to live our faith by taking concrete steps for the realization of the vision of the Magnificat, so that the hungry are filled with good things and the lowly are raised to dignity and fullness. Related report State govt under fire over malnutrition deaths Virginia Saldanha is the former executive-secretary of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences Office of Laity with responsibility for the Women’s Desk. A freelance writer, she has a diploma in Theology for Laity from the Bombay Diocesan Seminary and is a woman activist working in India.