10/01/2015, 00.00
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Indian Jesuit warns that people are starving as governments do nothing

by Nirmala Carvalho
Fr Jyothi SJ is the convener of the Right to Food and Work network in West Bengal, an organisation of NGOs that launched an awareness campaign last Saturday to get the State government to activate the existing food security legislation for the State’s poor. “We want the government to wake up” and realise food shortages “will inevitably turn into famine” in the coming months. South Asia is home to half of the world’s undernourished, but one would not know it from Indian media.

Kolkata (AsiaNews) – The Right to Food (RTF) and Work network has launched a campaign last Saturday in West Bengal to get the State government to enforce the National Food Security Act (NFSA) to guarantee enough food for everyone.

The network, which includes a number of NGOs, also wants the authorities to ensure adequate wages for workers, improve local food production, and provide maternity benefits.

The RTF campaign is designed to raise awareness and will last until 9 October. Fr Jyothi SJ is its convener. He is also the president of the Conference of Religious India.

Speaking to AsiaNews, he said, "In many districts, people are starving, all the while the media is failing to call it for what it is. Instead, it is using different names."

"Since I started to work among Adivasi* women in 2003 in remote villages of Bengal, I realised that they had to ask the government for food,” Fr Jyothi said. “With people I trained in the villages, I coached them in how to use existing laws and government programmes.”

"We want the government to wake up and do something for the coming months," the Jesuit clergyman explained. "Flooding in 12 State districts have wiped out the harverst, creating food shortages that will inevitably lead to hunger and turn into famine if the government does not take appropriate measures."

The RTF network wants the authorities to activate the NFSA to provide food to the population. “If the State has money for beautification works, it can find money for something as essential as food.”

However, "The lists of beneficiaries published in August were a complete farce,” Fr Jyothi said. What is more, “They have not been displayed in public places.”

For the RTF leader, the State should not just hand out food; instead, it should take steps to ensure that farming is encouraged and farmland protected from floods.

In India, the problem of malnutrition is widespread and the existing economic system does not help to solve it. "The reality is that government policies turn millionaires into billionaires whilst ignoring millions of poor who are left to endure hunger,” the priest said.

Such an “unjust and unbridled crony capitalism is not a solution for a country like India where 73 per cent of household lives in rural areas, most of them with minimum basic amenities,” Fr Jyothi said.

The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI) shows “that half of the wold’s poor are in South Asia (51 per cent  or 844 million) and one quarter in Africa (28 per cent or 458 Million),” however, whilst poverty in Africa is often highlighted, in India, it is swept under the carpet.”

* Adivasi is an umbrella term used in connection with India’s aboriginal ethnic and tribal groups.

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