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Birbal Tudu came with severe head injury and narrated experiences from his forest trip near Sarenga, Bengal. He belongs to the Santhal tribe and there is an event that unites men of this community once every year. They gather with weapons mainly bow and arrows, knives and sickles, take bath, chew beetel leaves, remove their wives-bangles symbolic of their marriage before they leave for the big hunt. On their successful return the women get to wash their feet and the lucky ones get to wear their bangles again. This time they managed to get wild rabbits and some snakes. ‘We don’t like eating snakes but killing them helps us with our safety. Also it is for the tradition that brings our clan together -a reason to stick by our ethnicity. This year few people from Kakradhara Gram that worship snakes decided to oppose and beat us’. Accompanied by a shepherd Hirdhan Soren who differed in opinion and smilingly replied to why they would kill to eat, ‘What we manage to earn is 1500- 2000 rupees a month for a family of 5-6 gives us the privilege to eat and rest are indulgences either for gatherings like these or waiting for a Bie Baari (wedding parties)!’
Point is definition of food, motivations behind procuring it and the choice of eating may not be same for all. Considering the present upturn of events it wouldn’t be incorrect to say it’s faith that feeds a nation and anyone opposing the belief howsoever rational must face the wrath of pseudo-nationalism. If we are to believe Indian democracy and fundamental rights there will be a long chaotic debate as demonstrated in our parliamentary sessions. Land and language divides gave us the diversity that we have been rehearsing in the essays about national integrity since school. It is only when the jobs made us scour different parts of the country, we meet people, their culture and food in particular to get acquainted with a place. However this enriching variance lives in feared clustered communities protecting state values and not ready to mix even an upper class Hindu to that of their sub-caste (forget separating speckles of Hinduism from Islam). Religion, gender, caste, socio-economic status were good enough for categorizing but now using food as a tool for divisional politics is objectionable.
Milking public health concerns
American author Michael Pollan mentioned in his book ‘The omnivore dilemma’ that most of the world’s grain goes to feed animals, not people and meat is an inefficient use for that grain because it takes ten pounds of grain to make one pound of beef. By that idea he suggests vegetarianism because there would be surplus grains for the world’s hungry. If developed America questions consumption of beef, it was because of the environmental stress and given that 2,400 gallons of water is needed for one pound of beef (25 gallons for one pound of wheat). But here half-starved population incited by illogical religious beliefs seem to outweigh ecological considerations. Cattle culling, banning slaughter, illegal trafficking of milch animals are serious issues that are correct in their sense but the activities undertaken in the name of cow-protection and resorting to violence against Muslims and Dalits is distressing. Flaring the unutilized Hindu sparks has driven the much needed young forces to exhaust their energy on such nonsensical matters. The cow-snake religious irrationality should address education-employment rationale and cater to actual needs of the people. Does choice of food justify in a country where tackling hunger should have been their first concern? Fact is government is in denial of facts and fabrication of rising India has almost got people to believe that building secular tastes is necessary for a healthy India. Political interference in public health has turned into a grave concern. India has failed to achieve infant mortality rate (IMR) target of 30 deaths per 1,000 live births set in 2012 by National Rural Health Mission launched in 2005. It is not only about targets but the sad reality that children dying comes last of all priorities.
Images of severely malnourished three year boy and a six year old girl screened in Nutrition Rehabilitation Center, West Bengal. Courtesy: Sneha Rout
Art of politicizing food
Uttar Pradesh ex-chief minister Akhilesh Yadav in previous election campaign distributed his image and party symbol stuck to every mid-day meal plates, Samajwadi Namak (fortified salt with his party name). Data suggests that government spends an average per child expenditure of INR 5000-10,000 crore for two crore children on supplementary nutrition program alone. Quality of food, actual outreach and pilferages in between suggest that if these amounts were to be paid to the families of children directly the nutrition levels would have automatically bettered.
Madhya Pradesh co-anchors the scene and last year Chief minister Shivraj Chauhan fussed over eggs given to feed malnourished children in ICDS Midday meals. They proposed rice-pulse combination of humble khichdi to cure protein energy malnutrition. For a state with infant mortality rate is 50 deaths per 1,000 live births which is marginally better than disaster stricken Haiti and Zimbabwe, Project Shaktiman (star from popular children’s serial) was launched with distribution of superhero dresses for awareness against malnutrition. Alongside are the recent killings at Mandsaur that show how farm distress is handled by government wherein farmers from Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) were protesting against implementation of Swaminathan Committee’s report of 5o% profit over input cost of goods. Yoga was suggested by ministers as solution to these farmers who were fighting to get better rates for their produce.
Tamil Nadu aced with Amma’ canteens that gained popularity to feed breakfast and lunch of 6 idlis, two plates of sambar rice and a plate of curd rice for 20 rupees. That translated into her vote banks as she won 37 of 39 seats. It was a hit amongst daily wage laborers as the PDS option of buying grains, pulses, oil, fuel and then cooking involved time and more money. It was a political masterstroke that set an exemplary standard for public services but according to health experts consumption of an idli weighing 100gms per rupee and 350 grams of rice per plate in 3-5 rupees are large portion sizes for an average Indian and manifests in adverse health parameters like obesity.
In Maharashtra , Tur farmers were promised to be paid 50% of their cost of production and above the minimum support price(MSP) as their profit in 2014 at an election rally. After three years of struggling, the prices of tur dropped to INR 4000 per quintal from INR 9000 in previous season. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis went quick in imposing of beef-ban (fines and jail term) but it took several agitations and suicides to recently manage a historic loan waiver for ‘genuine farmers in distress’ that has several irregularities pointed by Comptroller and Auditor General. However, the reasons for farmer’s crisis all over the country is due to not ensuring timely implementation of existing support systems and policies unfriendly to farmers, unaddressed drought affected farmers badly hit by demonetization and that would continue the trend of debt-ridden farmers in future.
In Odisha, 57% of tribal children under the age of five suffer from chronic malnutrition. According to Antyodaya Anna Yojana all vulnerable tribal groups are entitled to 35kg of rice per month. But some families in Juang are listed under ‘Priorities household’ by National Food Security Act where the quantity of rice is determined by number of people in household-5kg per person per month. So a family of four is getting 2o kg of rice where ideally under Antodaya Anna Yojana 35 kg was supposed to be given. Clearly faulty surveys conducted by the government deprives many families of not just food grains but services that they were meant to receive.
As Gujarat Chief Minister, once Modi had explained data of malnutrition among girls as a fallout of ‘’fashion consciousness’’. Tight lipped witness of rising atrocities in the name of cow protection, only ascertains the UNDP reports that claimed how Gujarat covered up the real indicators of poor conditions of those socially and economically marginalized which applies to healthcare sector as well.
In West Bengal there is a scheme for every cause and all you need is a packet of biryani, booze and a hundred rupee to get any length mass procession on celebrating days that concerns them the least. After Nandigram feat at regaining agricultural land undertaken by Tata Motors forcing them to Gujarat; people have hardly moved forward strikes and political backlashes. Industrialization without violation of human rights is necessary for an agrarian state to balance other development parameters. Even Chief minister Mamata Banerjee facing her share of scams after winning is calling for industries to trust and invest in Bengal again.
Bihar survived a multi-crore fodder scam involving Rashtriya Janta Dal president Lalu Yadav that saw deaths of most convicts involved during trial before Supreme court could reopen the case. Jharkhand High court decided to drop all charges in an alleged 9.4 billion fraudulent provision of fodder, medicines and husbandry supplies for non-existent livestock. Why don’t politicians or people get to streets demanding explanation for the money embezzled in the name of fabricated divine creatures?
From Himachal Pradesh, the consumers from tribal belt had accused state agencies for sub-standard and expired food stuff at mid-day meals in Lahaul- Spiti.
Manipur apart from being a northeastern state and known for Irom Sharmila’s 16 yearlong hunger strike against Armed forces special Act; there is much worse happening here. According to CAG reports there were 40,855 HIV positive cases in 2012, data suggests 2,971 children being infected at that time. Indian government provides Anti Retroviral Therapy (ART) through centres which is not a cure for HIV but inhibits replication of the virus thereby lowering chances of infection and diseases like tuberculosis and diarrhea. However ART can only work if patient taking drugs get a nutritionally adequate diet. These people generally take ART because it’s free but food and that too nutritious is impossible for majority of them are poor. An article from north east daily mentioned about the rising malnutrition and death of children due to HIV, how AIDS has gone beyond a medical problem and it’s need to be addressed in a war footing.
Top north from Jammu and Kashmir where children amidst violence are protesting for their rights to education (a few topped all India civil services) while ministers like Ramesh Arora consider talking of Momo as a controversial solace. Such logics of Burmese or Bangladeshi food stuff running health scare is just a threat for sane Indian politics. Forget much hyped Monosodium glutamate (MSG) and lead contend of Maggi, many small brand of junk foods, unhygienic street food, packaged chips-biscuits, breads and local foodstuffs are sold openly in every remotest village to almost every school going child and not only do they miss mentions of food safety authorizations but date of manufacturing and expiry are outlandish details that should worry leaders of real faith.
Children eating midday meal at ICDS. Courtesy: Sneha Rout
Soul Searching: Political & Public
Respecting our nation for the services it provides should make us gratuitous but pointing the loopholes or mistakes is simultaneously necessary for national self-reflect. We are surprisingly aware nation where majority of populace unapologetically resort to open defecation and that too in the fields where every known crop is grown. Our vegetables and agricultural produce come right from there. So can these pious heads justify such unreligious sight of cattle grazing on human-filth. If they consider that offensive it would call for serious sanitation work as compared to lynching people! A holy cow minds its torture of hormonal injections and below standard feedlot to procure milk as much as their killing for flesh. Slow torture versus quick death- is it the only righteous animal concern leaving behind the poor goats, chickens and even mollusks, fishes that will bear price rise in near future. But that is logic being talked of that doesn’t blend with terms of faith and religious tolerance and in the age of environmental concerns we have religious attributes governing over food choices, right? Current response to malnutrition would need politicians doing the field work, spend even ten percent of their travels to villages within country for framing policies that fit on table but not practice.
As for us we do call ourselves liberal when it comes accepting no non-veg on Thursdays, vegetarian to eggitarian, early 7 dinners for Jains and to Chinese weekend escapades and many more? If we have embraced one of these in our lives as a privileged Indian; accepting humans and their ways of eating then what is stopping us now from understanding several Birbal and Hirdhans. If we cannot uplift them we shouldn’t interfere in their lifestyles either. Food politics as an election tool might get votes even power but the deprived, sick and those fighting odds; whom government is supposed to represent will figure ways to challenge their dissatisfaction in future.
A non-human aptitude check on Indian governance- retrospective analogies drawn in to savour a healthy political jest…..
Thinking of humanity, I am one of many objects that humans pay for my service to their-kind. Not all can boast of having bent god’s most intelligent creatures to reach for us. ‘Oh, have I acquired the newly political credit-taking-flu. Nah! It’s just after ages of proud existence, the non-human me has began doubting myself or maybe I am suffering from human-life-end paranoia of being not enough as a cleaning resort. Don’t you bother with your hiccups as soulful humans have long back entered the non-feeling realistic zone with their SGS (Scion Gandhi Standard) kinda maturity, so we have decisively switched our reasoning goals. Lord for underage-politics sake, humans have to find some renew yearly resolutions as this SGS trolling be his old discussions on cot or newly bank stand-in-line cash initiative to futuristic Akhilesh-camaraderie is affecting the non-thinking class that are in equal scrutiny as much as my sweeps, how far- fetched covering each shukkar-to-nukkad! Bless his bearded-white-kurta looks aced with poor-hugging ideology; why should SGS be questioned for every irresponsible mess when the longtime sweeping direction for clean India is to be blamed?
With clinkering defeat in Punjab, I lament how humans belong to same species yet are different as individual, uniquely meant for a purpose (keeping politicians-&-actors out of this league ‘Kyunki neta ka beta abhineta toh abhineta ka neta and vice-versa ho sakta hai). This of course is to be figured out before they die for normal janta but before elections for above-normal janardhans. After all we tried, they chose to show SGS maturity above than us. It’s the post election loss that reminds me of human experiences of success-failure that sum up their journey- that they fondly refer as life. Different I agree, so are we evolved from simple bunch of twigs and haystacks to vacuum pumps, the aspect of purposeful existence is what I actually disagree about humankind. Do they really think about what impact each one could have as themselves? I dare not-to-touch any god to believe we are better off leading a purposeful life, more justified in society for what we offer –a cleaner surrounding. However hard the next day might seem, determined to continuously deal with the same dirt-spit-filth so called privileged humans are never tired of assembling. You might be thinking why a goddamn jhadu is giving us its opinion, ‘Of course why shouldn’t I, am also part of world’s biggest democracy (subject to conditions if-I-was living).’
Like every era has its fickle excitement, I have had mine when we were made to represent a very unconventional political party. Life was full of dharnas-and-anshans then came my first sweep task in clean-hell. We reached the national capital and once again humans lost it to settle for never-arriving hope. Realizing how I prefer, humans talking over humans working, for the latter kind are disappearing in the age of pro-promise politics. I get all teary eyed not because I’m reminded of our symbolic let down as Adam Aaj Party’s resolutions but for my reputation that is constantly being put at stake for every high to low profile sneeze. Considering this a highly challenging time for we brainless entities, a party symbol representing nation’s capital is far beyond respect we couldn’t afford even with million sweeps. What gets me nervous is not being able to stretch enough as the ultimate safai-weapon for every thought of human mess be it for sanitation or corruption, the poor or rich; my so called non-living existence is yet to come to agreeable terms with Indian mannerisms. Corruption brought masses to streets for once I thought Gandhi topi and myself together can relive the 1940’s magic again. Long-term learning teaches that picking topics of corruption, poverty, unemployment is easier, even easier is the mudslinging regime by the chosen ones. But when it comes to taking steps- it’s a call for mayhem thereafter. Phoenixed from Manmohak-silence to Modivating over-animated times, if demonetization was a step taken forget briefing correctly or a proper parliament discussion not for people, not for country but for the fear of digitalized jhaadus or rather denying their take on party-comes-first-sake; couldn’t do in our term, neither let anyone be the policy.
Talking of my Delhi stint, it’s unfair load on such a valuable piece of invention (Punjab- a badly done homework). Yes, calling myself valuable doesn’t give me an easy entry in the Braggadocio Jalebi Pantry. After their stupendous saffron upsurge in Uttar Pradesh, taking the limelight off the fact that whatever they try to make in this pantry ends up to have a jalebi midpoint (pointing towards previous Con-shresh party couldn’t do).
Suddenly aware of how much of ‘I’ that has been used to address my state of anxiety which is seriously again a non-human concern no matter how much we do; acknowledging and appreciation will be superficial until I am alive and once I reach my end I would have a fancy new replacement. This is the way I see life. Before I go, I wish to be more of use than humans, to my country and fellow brothers. Striking sentiments is the best surgical operation performed by every party as once in a lifetime valor. ‘I , me and myself standards is motivational thing that drives future aspiring politicians, you see! Don’t believe me, examples: Mentally-Not-Stable party passionately working on Valentine’s day and any P-word (Pakistan)stimulus, Holi celebration turned upside down for Saanjhi-wadi party (as they no longer make it all in family) to come what may pop-culture Aa-khali-DJ-di party that can dare sing another tune sooner (P.S. Rajani allowed).
Remember Stree-na-bhool throwing industrialists for land-votes mightier than job-antics. Ma-party-over-mati bhalo because poverty, talking of poor giving them all it takes to remain one should be the only blindfolded bandh games, this West or only Bengal can march to Delhi for (Modon-Sharada drop silence over grave child trafficking whispers, its small a topic- life over cash!). Do out of box or late by an era thing, grab the never slept public by eyes be it water issues, electricity or dalit issues all of which might be issues to be worked upon since independence ( better say substantial amount of work done as there’s an anti-national tagging in fashion). While they keep busy with land-food- water (such humanitarian) issues, ‘Sahi hai ek machar’ comes stepping in action as progressive than human vigilantes with dengue-chickengunia-malaria with no state preferences of course. Ideal enough left with advises to slip in swadeshi jeans, burn desi mosquito coils and sleep tight for longest possible season for common sense to hit back. By the time I mop, they already launch cricket shoes in market to prevent no-balls!
I remember in a wholesale market where I was once sold out, I had my second sweep of free wisdom. The shopkeeper was thanking almighty for the increase in sales, ‘Cleanliness is next to godliness’, he said to his wife could be their store tagline. She said this association with god was the cause why simple things like cleanliness has become complicated like religion, debatable with its significance reduced with every bloat-to-burp-and-belch opinions. Rightly pointed we are trying to live with well-half of Indian population that start the forehead-to-throat touching exercise when stumbled upon us as the lord-fearing-lot believe us to be Goddess Laxmi’s avatar and the other half hang us outside doors for good luck. ‘It’s the population spurt dear, don’t you see,’ the next to godliness feel is just not working any more. As fellow jhadoos suggest India’s booming expansion might be world leader in terms of human strength for sure and therefore exponentially worsening our working conditions. Logical enough if they can discuss language, color even animal rights as issues then it’s about time anybody saner (or sinner) chooses population enrage affecting broom community. Radio and television channels should be running segments with us as experts on discussing how lesser humans would equal lesser mess and in return reduce our concern, the broom workload. I swear to every breathing tree left, I am already feeling so relieved just with the thought of population control campaigns in India. With Barkharnab-exit, our jhaado placard holders going against humans, ‘Ab bas bhi karo, Na chalega ek na do!’
Human urge and control are the words still on the way to Indian discovery. To spit or put one’s fly down to pee is a freedom right. That freedom for which they fought for a hundred years, democracy comes as a long overdue. Democracy allows indulgences of forgetting the rich cultural heritage which this glorious nation is still trying to put in one frame. How intolerant it might seem to withhold onto even a mouthful of words, be it troubling cough or in some special cases paan or tobacco unleashing in public. That is so liberating! All the garbage- scraps, packets and peels can’t be within the periphery of their homes but throwing at the neighbor’s is the childishness every Indian adult refuses to part with. Scribbling on buses or monuments, public property treats to pen immortal Romeos (v/adj. Shakespearean-slang) of today. With uncountable Nirbhayas reduced to candle light marches, their urge to abuse, eve tease, molest and violent engagements remain just long withheld outbursts of Indian freedom. Domestically I am assumed to be female propriety so if a man tries use me for jhaado like women do, the mohalla would go gaga over his manliness, may be mothers would come snatching it to protect their son’s identity. Gladly we still remain a feminine association for frustrated mother-wives rescue as their kids-husbands get thrashed by me in lieu of any unjustice; thankfully my qurbaani is somberly utilized as a mild punishment.
While serving humanity last few twigs of my stature splits away in shame when child rights, malnutrition and education- things I can think of now, cannot sketch a dream-worthy future. Oh, please don’t think of me as one in Nobel peace anticipation or a social activist as I have failed badly because never has any Neta made it a political brouhaha nor any Non-neta anticipated it as full time endeavor. I approached a politician who mistook malnutrition as Manchurian and strongly inferred Chinese links to it. Speaking of rights-questioned me on being Right-or-Left wing supporter and education as not his ministry. From US -Trumponomics crash course for aspiring politicians, I found the key- talking of people’s biggest insecurities, supporting and flagging them as your political manifesto can lead to any-dump victory. Who would have thought that national party’s symbol would come to life with its trysts in politics?
At last I have turned to provide iconic cleaning services these days. Thanks to the stars and politicians posing with us, we make headlines due to the riveting ‘Switch Broom Campaign’. Apart from posing we have made our presence felt in social media in times of facebook with ‘Safai ho na ho, gali-gali wifi-ka naara ho!’ Yet amidst all this paparazzi there is only one man that made us feel any good- Mahatma Gandhi. In times of twitter update like short lived gratitude, this is the very nation where Bapu gave his life for independence; not distinguishing people for color or classify them for the kind of work they do, only to be left imprinted as a chapter in constitutional books. Its left undone where he began from cleaning your own loo (building them first can take another decade) to the initial concept of fasting (unlike now as political-agenda-manvao-tool), making your own stuff to being independent, loving, non-violent so as to transcend to a world where ultimately everyone will have to share the same room of deeds. ‘Wait if you meant Almighty’s abode- I have my plans, moving to Mars at 50 (no room for brotherhood), tweaked my old haystack friend interrupting that they were no more in use even in villages so taking inspiration from a Famous Patel from Bapu’s land to catch attention of suave new broom companies who have stopped making their kind. Filed crap-sheet for disowning the age-old gratitude by conventional jhaadoo committee. I with all gross in head, could only suggest that if one is not in two minds for working hard (imagine caste/quota is no longer a career swipe card) then where is the harm in letting go of previous reservations upgrading our D-VIP values (dormant volcanic Indian proprietorship). Humans have pigeoned themselves, ‘Politicians aayenge jaal bichayenga, vaado ka daana dalenge,’ and they fall for it each time just like the Indian fables we take pride but no learning yet. Alas, fact remains we Indians are too much into a Mesiah theory, that one day a man with extraordinary (or simply political) powers will come to lead them through their miseries until then don’t throw away your mess, hoard it for a magic that in future someone can turn into gold!