Thousands gather seeking end to hunger in India

Not all poor people benefiting from new law that guarantees affordable food
Thousands gather seeking end to hunger in India

Indian civic group leaders gather on their way to the venue of the Right to Food convention in Ranchi on Sept. 24. (Photo supplied)   

ucanews.com reporter, Ranchi
India
September 30, 2016
People from across the India gathered in Ranchi, capital of Jharkhand state, to demand proper implementation of a law that envisaged food grains to poor people at a reduced price to end hunger and malnutrition in the country.

The Right to Food Act was made a law in 2013, but "many states have not yet implemented it as there are lots of starvation deaths in India," says Jesuit Father Irudaya Jothi, a leader of the national Right to Food Campaign.

Creating awareness about the rights of the people was the thrust of the sixth national convention on the Right to Food and Work. The two-day program that ended Sept. 25 saw the gathering of some 3,000 representatives from various NGOs working for the rights of tribal and Dalit people and included discussions, speeches and cultural programs focusing on people's rights.

The food security law mandates state governments to provide food grains at subsidized prices to one-third of India's 1.2 billion people, majority of them in villages. The food security programs include midday meal schemes and child development programs.

But three years after the law was enacted, several state have not implemented it, say Jesuit Father Stan Swamy, a social activist who took part in the Ranchi program.

The Jharkhand state government only started implementing it "now after our consistent protests for the last six months," said Father Swamy.

"Large numbers of poor people across several states are yet to benefit from the schemes and therefore, we convened this meeting to create awareness among the people to demand their rightful share of food from the government," he told ucanews.com.

India is home to the largest undernourished and hungry population in the world, says the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations' 2015 report. Some 195 million people, or 15 percent of Indians are undernourished, it says.

Some 3,000 children in India die every day from poor diet related illnesses and one in every four Indian children is malnourished, it says.

Activists say since the majority of the beneficiaries are illiterate and economically poor people, political parties ignore the implementation of the law. "We want to block all the loopholes in the system that deprive the poor, who are illiterate and even do not know that there is such a law for their food security," Father Swamy said explaining the need for such gatherings.

However, not everyone is for the implementation of the law. Father Bisu Benjamin, a social worker from Khunti Diocese in Jharkhand, told ucanews.com that the bill posed a threat to the tribal lifestyle as many may turn "lazy and gradually move away from work." The priest wanted the state to ensure that people also "work for food, instead of getting it free."

"When it comes to tribal people, they are hard workers by habit but if they continue to live on such freebies for quite a long time, their very life will be under threat," he added.

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