Will we let the poor die? by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (May 11, 2016)

Sometimes towards the end of cold war, Rand Corporation, which conducts researches and writes reports for US government, its foreign policy and military establishments, prepared a report that had a startling suggestion. It said that the powerful and rich Western countries and institutions should not intervene to save millions of lives in the less developed countries (LDCS).

According to Rand, the ill-fed, ill-clad, ill-shod millions were worthless vermins who had no value, were of no economic worth, and were a burden on earth’s resources. So they should be allowed to die off in their millions. There was no point in wasting precious material and financial resources on them. That was like throwing black slaves overboard in the sea to drown if the white captains of slave-trading ships thought their ship was overloaded or had insufficient food and water for so many people.

At that time the report sounded a little too cruel, callous and shocking, especially for liberals and leftists. It also seemed unprecedented, but it was not. In India, over the centuries Banias had regularly been hoarding grain as people died in famines. The Banias thus forced food prices (and their profits) to shoot through the ceiling as people died like flies. As Amartya Sen, says in famines there was enough food, but the poor did not have access to it as they had a weak purchasing power.

A particularly gruesome famine struck Bengal in 1942. People from the countryside were dropping dead like flies on Calcutta’s roads, lanes and bylanes. The city was littered with corpses of the hungry men, women and children as Banias’ godowns were brimming with food grains hoarded to be sold at higher prices. As Indians did not bother for fellow Indians, the British rulers had no reason to worry too much about saving Indian lives.

At that point the massive British military (that included Indians and other colonised people in it) was fighting against the Axis powers led by Germany, Italy and Japan. When the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill needed to ensure food supplies to British troops he took away all the reserved food from India and let the people die from hunger in their millions. Between the Banias’ greed and the British need Indian lives were extinguished en masse. Both Churchill and the hoarders had coolly decided to let people wither away. Thus Rand report’s suggestion was not unprecedented.

Thankfully, we are no longer living under British rule, but the rule of greedy traders is yet to be over. And, yes, the native government has not always been an improvement on the colonial one. Our governments at Centre as well as in states have not always acted in stress situations in a better way than their colonial predecessors.

Today no country in the world is allowed to let people perish in a famine. In India itself the last devastating famine came in Cooch Behar in the 70s. Since then no real famine has struck the country, yet from locations in Odisha, Madhya Pradesh and the model of economic growth state, Gujarat, reports have often come that said certain pockets were severely food scarce. Starvation deaths are not unheard of in these states as well as Chhattisgarh and others. The question is when India will get rid of hunger, finally? Today, 33 crore people in 256 districts of ten states are severely affected by monumental drought, subjected to the worst human suffering. There is no mention of it in the daily dose of announcements of grand new schemes, plans, missions, projects and Abhiyans. Why? Are not they Indians?

I will continue this in another write-up soon. However, before ending it I want to talk about a cruel joke Sadhvi Uma Bharti has played on some of the worst drought-hit people. Bharti, the rabble-rouser of Babri Masjid demolition movement, is today the Union minister for water resources. More importantly, she is an MP from Jhansi in Bundelkhand, one of the worst drought-hit areas.

On May 2, she flagged off 12 tankers carrying water to some most thirsty areas. She waved a BJP flag and the convoy of tankers rolled off to their destination. When they reached there people were angry to see that none of them had a drop of water. Whatever the case, but Bharti had her pictures sending water to the thirsty publicised. Naturally, the victims did not like this joke at all.

By the way, what does it say about the Centre’s attitude to the life and wellbeing of 30 crore Indians who are not a part of the grand media-created hype? Do these leaders want the poor to die without food and water?

(to be concluded)


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