Hunger Deaths in Rich City

Well not such a silent crisis right now given the newspaper and TV reports in Mumbai screaming about children dying of hunger in a slum. A slum situated in a suburb, Govandi, filled with spanking new buildings, call centres and corporate offices. 18 children, most of them under 2 years, have died here since April this year. Four in December alone. Children of rag pickers who live off the garbage dump near their homes.

The numbers are shocking but the fact is urban malnutrition is a crisis that plays out every year in Mumbai. Look closely at the children playing on the streets and the telltale signs are all too visible. But because children don’t often die of malnutrition, but related illnesses like tuberculosis, even cold and fever, it’s going unnoticed. By the Indian government’s own estimates every year over 25000 children in Mumbai’s slums are dying of malnutrition.

I visited the Rafiq Nagar slum where the 18 deaths occurred. Many of the affected families ironically enough live close to the nutrition centres set up by the state government to provide food to young kids. I met mothers who had buried their kids weeks, just days before.

 One of them Reshma, was holding her surviving child. An 8 month old baby girl who weighs just 3 kgs. It’s been a month since her underweight son died of malnutrition but not a single health official, working in the nutrition centre or anganwadi next door, has been to see her, to advise her on how to take care of her only child…

If this had happened in a middle or upper middle area there would have been an uproar. But because these are poor children, children of migrants, of voters who do not count, there is hardly any public outrage. How many more have to die before authorities, and people wake up?

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