In a family living in an 18-cent surplus land of Railways right under the nose of the state government, and within the nerve centre of state administration – one among 13 families living there in single-room homes - a housewife with six children of three months to seven years of age made us hear their woeful tale through Malayalam media the other day. Deprived of even rice water to quench the stomach of little ones, and forced to feed them with soil, the unfortunate mother had no choice but to hand over her four elder children to Child Welfare Council; and that is when the story hit news headlines.
The Child Welfare Council was constrained to take over the four children, and excluded the last three. When the incident, sufficient to bring to tears any one with a heart, jolted the government, a minister, people's representatives and municipal authorities rushed to the spot. They have now announced relief measures. The mother and the children have been temporarily shifted to the mahila mandiram (women's centre). Because their hut was situated in the Railways' surplus land, they do not have any land documents or pattaya. For that same reason, they did not possess Aadhaar or ration card either. The family head, addicted to intoxicants, is a coconut-tree climber, which should fetch him a good income, but his wife and children do not get anything from him other than torture. The authorities who have now arranged for a temporary cleaning job for the mother, also inform that necessary arrangements will be made for the protection and education of the children. Let us hope that those responsible will not delay fulfilling the declared action as promised.
Kerala has been certified by Niti Ayog in its latest report of figures, as a state with better health, lower rates of death by poverty, gender equality and education than other states. The fact that in such a state, children still exist who are forced to eat dust, should set everybody thinking. It is not clear whether the recongition that in the global poverty index of 2019, India stands 102nd, has opened the eyes of our rulers. In this ranking, there are only 15 countries below India. The report in question also state that out of the total children in the age group of six to 23 months, only 9.6 per cent receive nutrition in the recommended measure.
In the rural sector, food consumption came down by 10 per cent over the last few years. Still, Kerala, being in a position of better of the bad, has been sitting in that comfort. But at the same time, as per figures released by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in March 2018, as many as 822 persons committed suicide in a period of one and a half years due to poverty. The number of children who succumb to death gradually with burning stomachs, however do not figure in official statistics. Since the probable reason for such deaths would be diseases resulting from malnutrition, many child deaths would not be reported under poverty deaths.
It is also to be remembered that Kerala is a state that tops the list in economic inequality too. The ratio of Kerala is 0.37 per cent. This means that in several human development indices like food, housing, health and education, a section of Kerala are wealthy or affluent whereas there is another section who are poor or very poor. Although the number of the latter section is less when compared to other states, this is not to be seen as insignificant especially when Kerala is a state with a relative predominance of socialist thoughts. It is when tons of food are destroyed in star hotels and at feasts that in the peripheries of society a large section are forced to eat dust to satiate their stomach – a paradox that should make every Keralite lower his head.
What has once again been unravelled through the sobering incident in Thiruvananthapuram, is the reckless life of a family head resulting from liquor addiction and the attendant propensity to torture. The spectre of the male head working till dusk and then coming home inebriated to behave like a human beast, is not at all an isolated instance. Even here, the only question to be answered is whether Kerala ranks first or second in cruelty to housewives and children. When the average Indian is done with 3.5 litres of liquor a year, Keralites are not satisfied with even 8.7 litres. That may be why the chief minister and his colleagues have started thinking of pubs - in addition to the burgeoning network of bar hotels. What else can establishing pubs near schools, colleges and places worship achieve than creating new drinkers and enriching the government's coffers - which is getting poorer by the day? With the green signal being given to pubs open till late in the night, it is certain that households will become veritable hell, more than ever before. What is to be keenly watched is whether the government will refrain from this widening of the liquor net, at least as sparing a thought for children who cry for a square meal of porridge.