ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Perpetual Areas of Darkness

Malnutrition deaths in Maharashtra's tribal belt expose indifference of successive governments.

We ought to be scandalised even if one child dies because it does not have enough food. But when thousands of tribal children die from malnutrition in a state that is one of the better off in India, it is not just scandalous but “criminal,” as the Bombay High Court observed recently. In Maharashtra, the annual ritual of reporting child deaths from malnutrition in tribal areas has begun. While the parents ­lament that their children died because they had no food, the state government, in a perpetual state of denial, claims they died of disease, not hunger. The established fact that malnourished children will succumb to disease more easily appears to have bypassed the state’s policymakers. And so the same litany plays out year after year, decade after decade, while the state’s tribal hamlets remain areas of perpetual darkness where pro-poor developmental programmes have failed to make a difference to the lives of people.

Data from the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) for Maharashtra reveals that just in the month of August, 1,588 children below the age of five died, the majority of them from tribal pockets. In addition, there are 95,743 children below the age of five who are extremely vulnerable because they are grossly underweight and another 5.98 lakh moderately underweight. This is not a “breaking story”; it tells us the consequence of decades of indifference and negligence of tribal settlements in Maharashtra. The facts remain virtually unchanged since the 1980s. And the tragedy is that each time there is reporting about such deaths, the government machinery springs to action, offers band-aid relief in the form of food and monetary assistance, and then hopes the problem will disappear.

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