Bengal Famine to Right Food – An insightful journey towards food security
Famines were quite frequent in the colonial rule because of the indifference of the British India government towards the plight of the starving people of undivided Bengal. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the great crisis that hit the golden land of Bengal. The estimated deaths were 1.5 to 3 million children, women and men during 1942-43. It is estimated deaths due to starvation in the colonial rule was 30 to 40 million especially in Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Bengal. The Bengal famine of 1943 struck the Bengal province of pre-partition British India during World War II following the Japanese occupation of Burma. It has been argued that the Japanese invasion of Burma was the main cause of the Bengal Famine of 1943, since it cut off all food supplies from the region. A constellation of factors led to this mega-tragedy, such as the Japanese occupation of Burma, the damage to the aman (kharif) rice crop both due to tidal waves and a disease epidemic caused by the fungus Helminthosporium oryzae, panic purchase and hoarding by the rich, failure of governance, particularly in relation to the equitable distribution of the available food grains and disruption of communication due to World War II.
Estimates are that between 1.5 and 4 million people died of starvation, malnutrition and disease, out of Bengal’s 60.3 million population, half of them dying from disease after food became available in December 1943. As in previous Bengal famines, the highest mortality was not in previously very poor groups, but among artisans and small traders whose income vanished when people spent all they had on food and did not employ cobblers, carpenters, etc.
At that time people who were studying in colleges were discussing various ways to develop the nation and combat the current situation. Seventy years now the country misses the spark in the youth who may come up with protests but lack the intellect to provide a solution which makes our great nation food secure. Even our politicians who believe the Right to Food as a game changer in the 2014 General Elections wants to rush into this. No doubt this is a good initiative by the current UPA government but it also adds up to the rising fiscal deficit which the reforms from Prime Minister’s Office can’t decrease. 70 years on we are still not food sufficient still people are dying because of extreme hunger and poverty estimating up to 2 lakh per year. It seems the great economists of the country are on a long holiday or may be their ideas are out of stock.
What’s more shocking is that being an agrarian economy with majority of the population engaged in agricultural activities still no youngster is willing to become a farmer. The country has dramatically failed to understand the importance of farming. There is no remuneration and the richest people in the country are not the people who provide you with food to survive. The biggest corporations in the country are not an agro-based company. Every day we keep hearing farmers committing suicides. In this scenario the government wants the Right to Food bill to pass without realizing or providing any protection to the farmers. If anyone wants to become a farmer the society, parents look down to the idea, they play a prime role in discouraging their wish. But they are not wrong when they do that they do it because the remuneration of a Investment Banker or Doctor or Engineer is way higher than that of a farmer who after working hard to provide food (energy) to these Engineers or Doctors or Investment Bankers to work or survive lives in less than $1.25 a day. The youth of the nation doesn’t ask the government of India why is the situation so gruesome at ground level.
The Right to Food bill may provide food to 75% of the rural population and 50% of the urban population but it doesn’t do anything to improve the status of the farmers. There are many reasons to debate this bill but the government of the country is always interested in providing freebies before every election in the country. 70 years on the situation remains critical because policy makers have not done enough to eradicate poverty out of the lives of the people who are responsible for making this country food secure.
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