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Jesuits initiate forum to help create a hunger-free India

The most vulnerable are needlessly suffering because of badly implemented welfare schemes, says priest

Jesuits initiate forum to help create a hunger-free India

A file image of a woman and child begging on the outskirts of the Indian city of Hyderabad in this 2012 file photo. Around a third of India's population is classified as being poor. (Photo by AFP)

Jesuits have initiated a national network of non-governmental agencies to enhance their work among India's poor and to strengthen the country's secular and democratic characteristics.

The people's forum or "Lok Manch" was launched April 6 at the start of a three-day workshop when some 120 activists representing around over 100 organizations across India come together in New Delhi.

"Our dream is to build a secular and democratic India so that the last and least will cherish the constitutional values and enjoy the freedom of citizens of India," said Jesuit Father Sunnybhai, national coordinator of the forum.

A priority for the forum would be to press for the implementation of laws and policies that assist India's poor, including famers, tribal and dalit people.

Father Sunnybhai, who goes by a single name, said the desired outcome of the forum is that the "marginalized take charge of their own lives and the community and begin to shape their own destiny and history."

The nation is witnessing hunger, poverty and the suicides of debt-trapped farmers because of badly implemented government welfare schemes, he said.

One example was the National Food Security Act passed in 2013, which promised subsidized grains to the poor, who constitute some 400 million people, around a third of the population. While some states have implemented it partially, a full and nation-wide implementation is still waiting, he said.

The forum aims to create awareness among non-governmental organizations on such issues and enhance their capacity to respond to them. It would also foster and strengthen the spirit of unity among non-governmental organizations and develop a collective ownership of the forum.

The forums first workshop deliberated on the various entitlements enshrined in the Food Security Act, said Jesuit Father Irudaya Jyothi, who has been part of a Right to Food campaign in West Bengal state of India.

Delivering the keynote address at the workshop was Harsh Mander, director of the Centre for Equity Studies and a Special Commissioner to the Supreme Court of India. Mander said Indians are going hungry while 80 million tons of food grain is allowed to rot in government storehouses. It is a criminal waste and an abomination, Mander said.

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Father George Patteri, provincial of Jesuits in South Asia, wanted participants to cooperate in creating a hunger-free India, which he said was "an unfinished agenda of the country's freedom struggle."

Father Jyoti expressed hope the forum will help intensify the campaign for the food rights across India.

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