India’s Anil Ambani is all set to outdo Bill Gates as the richest person on earth riding on the rising price of Reliance Energy’s shares. A whopping number of Indians riding on the wave of the burgeoning IT sector and taking advantage of the emerging economic activities are fuelling the ranks of millionaires and billionaires. Amidst the piling dazzling wealth of India, there lies an India where people die of starvation and malnutrition. According to non-governmental organizations between 2003 and 2006, in Uttar Pradesh alone there were 52 starvation deaths. This scenario is unfortunate for a state whose political parties in power whether it is the current BSP led government or its predecessor the Samajbadi Party both of whom had social justice as their election manifesto.
Failure of the public distribution system, inability of the National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme to provide 100 days work to the rural people are considered as the main reason behind the persistent poverty and rise in starvation deaths in the state. In the Kushinagar district, in eastern Uttar Pradesh a number of members of the Musahar community have died from starvation. Arrival of mechanized farming has rendered the Musahars who largely relied on agriculture for their livelihood unemployed, aggravating poverty in the region. Unfortunately, for these poor Harijans the administration of the district is not prepared to accept starvation as the cause of their deaths.
In India starvation death is not only concentrated in UP but nearly every state in the country has unofficial records of starvation deaths, this despite the fact that India is self sufficient in food requirements. Most deaths from starvation are reported from the Dalit communities in the country. Caste-based discrimination and rampant corruption prevents the benefits of the government welfare programs from reaching the members of these communities. In order to guarantee food security the government of India had constituted a public distribution system that is under the Ministry of Foods and Public Distribution. However, rampant corruption in the public distribution system has caused malfunctioning of the fair price shops that are entitled to provide the necessary food grains to the people below the poverty line at lower prices.
The continuation of feudal practices, existence of bonded labors and absence of land reform policies have led to starvation deaths. In India, nation-wide implementation of land reforms is yet to materialize owing to strong political opposition. To make matters worse any effort by local organizations to report cases of starvation is met with dire threats from vested interests.