Story Publication logo January 24, 2022

Hungry Nation


india hunger

Fourteen percent of India’s population is undernourished, according to the Global Hunger Index.

A woman and her daughter sitting next to some pots where they are preparing curries and rice
The little that they get: Pakhal, rice soaked overnight in water, along with mushroom curry, is all that Jelapi Urlaka fed her youngest daughter Anita in their home at Lakdakhal in Ambodala gram panchayat of Muniguda block in Rayagada district of Odisha. Image by Rohit Jain/The Hindu. India, 2021.

India is ranked 101 among 116 countries in the Global Hunger Index (GHI), 2021 report. The country continues to be in the severe-hunger category. The GHI report said that wasting “weight for height” among children in India increased from 17.1% between 1998 and 2002 to 17.3% between 2016 and 2020. The hunger problem has been exacerbated by the pandemic. People who used to go for work as migrant wage labourers are stuck in their villages. Weekly bazaars in the villages were not functional during the lockdown, causing loss of livelihood. People living in villages in the forests can’t do farming in the forest land.

The constant state of hunger can lead to different morbidities and subsequent mortalities in the worst conditions. Poverty remains a grave concern in India. Food inadequacy and hard and hazardous work conditions lead to diseases such as tuberculosis and silicosis, often leading to death. Experts with extensive field experience opine that this is a state of slow starvation. When people do not get enough nutritious food for long periods of time, health takes a downward slide which most times cannot be reversed. Deaths from such situations get tagged under death by disease and not death by starvation, according to John Dreze, a social economist. While the government on one hand is aiming for India to become a $5 trillion economy by 2024, many parts of rural India is a far cry from such a reality.

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A pot of porridge cooks
Millet magic: A porridge of ragi (finger millet) at Kujing in Muniguda block of Rayagada district in Odisha. The villagers belonging to the Kondh tribe say this porridge is filling and gives energy for a longer period. “We do farming without tilling the land. After a few years, we shift to other land for farming. In this way, land remains fertile and trees grow again,” a tribesperson says. Image by Rohit Jain/The Hindu. India, 2021.
A woman works on extracting oil from a mahua fruit
Traditional process: Subhia Bhai Partitin from the Gond tribe removes the upper layer of the mahua fruit for extracting oil from it, in front of her house at Sajatola in Koyrali panchayat of Bodla tehsil in Kabirdham district of Chhatisgarh. Image by Rohit Jain/The Hindu. India, 2021.
Two young children eat together in a forest area
Foraged food: Ratni Nundruka (left) and Malti Nundruka, cousins, eat jackfruit plucked from a tree at Matodi in Ambodalai gram panchayat of Muniguda block in Rayagada district of Odisha. Jackfruit is one of the main forest produce that the Kondh tribe in this area eat. Jackfruits seeds are made into a curry. Image by Rohit Jain/The Hindu. India, 2021.
Food items in small bowls that will transported to a center where young and pregnant women are
Balancing nutrition: Food items to be distributed to the pregnant and breastfeeding women at an Anganwadi center at Jharoni in Raghubari gram panchayat in Muniguda block of Rayagada district in Odisha. Image by Rohit Jain/The Hindu. India, 2021.

Short supply: To feed her children, Sanmai Sihidia cooked rice and soaked it overnight after borrowing grains from one of her neighbours at Bujibong in Ambodala gram panchayat of Muniguda Block in Rayagada district of Odisha. The monthly rice she receives from the Public Distribution System hardly lasts for 15 days. Image by Rohit Jain/The Hindu. India, 2021.

Water woes: Ghanshyam Markam along with his brother Deepak Markam from the Gond tribe walk more than a kilometre to fetch water from a stream in the forest at Koyrali in Bodla tehsil of Kabirdham district of Chhatisgarh. There is a well near their house but the water isn’t good. Recently, someone threw a dead snake in it, so they avoid its water completely for a few days. Image by Rohit Jain/The Hindu. India, 2021.
Mushrooms sit above a pot on a small fire
Swings of fate: Seema Baiga warms water to cook rice for dinner while wild mushroom (pihri) she collected from the forest is being dried to use beyond the monsoon, at her tin sheet house at Rabda in Kabirdham district of Chhattisgarh. She and her family had 10 acres of fertile land where they used to grow paddy, maize and other crops. However, bauxite mining displaced them from their land and house and they now work as wage labourers in big farms. Image by Rohit Jain/The Hindu. India, 2021.
A grandmother holds her young granddaughter
Getting by: Jagudi Sihidia feeds pakhal to her 15­-month-­old granddaughter Miki at her house at Bujibong in Ambodala gram panchayat in Muniguda block of Rayagada district in Odisha. Image by Rohit Jain/The Hindu. India, 2021.
Three young children sit together around a fire
Hardscrabble life: Sarika Birhor, aged around 10, is cooking rice for dinner at her home in Basariya Birhor Tola of Chatra district in Jharkhand. Her mother passed away when she was around five and her youngest sister is around a year and a half old. Her parents used to work as daily wage labourers at a brick kiln in Uttar Pradesh. She is the eldest of her two siblings, Savita and Anita. They are looked after by their grandmother. Her grandmother begs during the weekly bazaar in Tandwa tehsil. Children collect the leafy vegetables from the forest around to be eaten with rice. Image by Rohit Jain/The Hindu. India, 2021.


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