Around a Lakh people had sat on protest at the house of Maharashtra Tribal Development Minister Vishnu Savara at Wada on Monday. The key demands raised by protesters were implementation of Forest Rights Act, work under EGS, timely salaries for Anganwadi workers, etc. People had gathered on the call of AIKS, DYFI, SFI and other Left Organisations, ended the demonstration after assurance on Tuesday morning. It is to be noted that thousands of Adivasi children have died due to malnutrition in Maharashtra over period of 1 year.
In times when slogans like ‘Mera Desh Badal Raha Hai’ are echoing on television channels, news of several Adivasi children in Maharashtra dying due to malnutrition, comes to burst the bubble of ‘digital India’. Malnutrition is not a recent occurrence in the country; we have been trying to deal with the problem for decades now. The recent data from Maharashtra, specifically from the tribal communities, is enough to shock any government out of their aloof attitude towards the everyday troubles of the common people. In September during a hearing of the PIL regarding deaths of 17,000 people in the last year in tribal areas of Maharashtra, the Bombay High Court asked the state government to take immediate action.
Around 10,000 Adivasi children under the age of five have died in the last 5 months in the state. However, governments, both at the center and state, have completely ignored the issue and like many predecessor governments they too have let the problem escalate to this devastating stage. Malnutrition is the Gordian knot which requires a multi-pronged strategy to be untied. The present center and state governments are not only turning a blind eye to the deaths of the Adivasis but have also weakened the schemes which could have provided some relief to the poor and starving people. Ever since, the Modi government came to power in 2014 there has been a significant decline in the budgetary allocations for the social welfare schemes. PM Modi has been very outspoken about his abhorrence towards the MGNREGA scheme which was introduced to ensure work for the rural people. This scheme, if implemented in its spirit, has the ability to become an important tool to fight poverty and hunger. But the BJP government is dead set to weaken it. In Maharashtra, government is not providing work under this scheme. ICDS is another hot target of the BJP government’s budget cuts. A scheme which provides basic nutrition for children of the 0-6 age group should be encouraged in a country which struggling to feed its children. On the contrary, BJP ruled Maharashtra has not paid the Anganwadi workers in 4 months. Reportedly, money meant for the SC/ST Sub-plan has been diverted to other activities. 1 lakh crores had been allegedly diverted for other activities since the formation of Modi government.
After experiencing the absolute disregard of Maharashtra government on the issue, on 3rd October people took to the streets in Wada. Around one lakh Adivasi farmers, women, youth, and students organized a massive protest. They marched for 4 kilometers. The administration which has been ignoring the cries of its starving people was efficient enough to deploy police and Rapid Action Force in massive numbers. The Tribal Affairs Minister was supposed to meet with a delegation; he fled Wada.
Prime Minister Modi on many occasions has called the 21st century: the century of Asia and by extension India. Is he and his party planning to take on the world with a large number of hungry and dying children?
* With Inputs from Vijoo Krishnan