Killing Kids With Free Food – The Bihar Food Poisoning Case
It’s tough. Tough being an Indian. Especially tough being an Indian who reads the papers or sees the news. The news is uniformly bad. And what’s worse it is so depressing that you cannot watch for more than five minutes at a stretch. Right now, I admit that I am oscillating between being pissed-off and being depressed. I can’t, just can’t digest the news tonight- about the 22 children dead in the state of Bihar after eating the pesticide contaminated food served at their school as part of the free noon meal scheme for school going kids.
I remember when the free noon meal scheme for schools was first introduced in my native town Madras by the then Chief Minister MG Ramachandran. I remember that there were a lot of nay-saying economists who predicted (wrongly) that it would not work. I also remember that the scheme turned out to be a fair bit of success. Kids were kept off the streets by the chance of a guaranteed hot noon meal at school. They may not have learnt much at school but at least the free meal got them off the streets. Be thankful for small mercies.
And I have watched with great interest the scheme being introduced all over the nation, in state after state. There have been quite a few “accidents” in the implementation over the years- lizards falling in the food, dead rats found in the food etc. And every time we are told that it will not happen again. Never again. We have improved the system and we will catch it on time, is the excuse trotted out every single time. And we, the stupid common people of India believe those voices of authority and go about our routine, till we see in the news that yet again children have died somewhere poisoned by their free meals served at schools.
I work in a children’s hospital. I work with fine people who fight for every single child’s life. People who work their butts off night and day to send home happy even the hopeless cases. And that’s why it hits me so hard to learn of all these healthy children dying for no reason at all. For these are 100% preventable deaths. Deaths which would not have happened in possibly any other country. Deaths which occur due to the incredible negligence of smug people in charge who know that nothing will happen to them, no punishments in the offing, whatever they do. Deaths which will happen again and again, maybe even in the near future and nothing will change.
Do I sound pessimistic and bitter? Yes of course, for I know my nation and its people and this is our lot in life. For us it’s all about politics, about scoring brownie points and about using every single tragedy to achieve some Machiavellian political goal. If you have been following the news you might have noticed that both the central- ruling and opposition parties have maintained an ominous silence because they want to form an opportunistic political alliance with the party ruling the state. So the political class as a whole tries to show solidarity to the rulers’ than the victims.
And those shining stalwarts of our news media are putting their oars in, trying to make this into a class issue rather than a universal tragedy. The dead are all poor children who tempted by the offer of a square meal a day went to their own deaths cheerfully little dreaming that they were being fed poison instead of food. But that does not make this a class issue. Even rich kids are poisoned to death in India. Middle class kids are poisoned to death in India. Every single kid in India is imbibing some kind of polluted or poisoned food even as we speak. A pollution (or poison) which is not accidental- but deliberately added to the food we eat for more (and faster) profits. In every single item. Reflect on that- if you have the time.
Death in India is the ultimate class leveler – it spares no one, rich or poor, adult or child. We all routinely eat poisoned stuff, because unscrupulous traders are looking to make a fast profit and our regulatory authorities are incompetent. And even if they do catch the occasional miscreant, he or she always has a political godfather or two tucked up somewhere to bail him out with no stain. The truth is all of us- you, me and everyone are slowly being poisoned day by day, in a hundred myriad ways and there is nothing we can do about it. In the manner of true-born Indians we accept it fatalistically and go on with our daily lives.
To round off this rant, I have a single appeal. A single plea to our politicians. No one is asking you to feed the poor children. It’s the duty of their parents to do so. If you can’t afford to feed them at least leave them alone. Don’t tempt them in the name of giving food and poison them to death. We accept that Death is everyone’s lot in life- just don’t be in a hurry to grant it to us, the common people, in the name of your compassion.
P.S. I hope regular readers of my blog will excuse this personal rant as it does not reflect the overall tenor of my blog. But I needed an outlet to let off steam and this seemed the place to do it. And it’s strictly a one-off, one time only thing. I promise to return again with a more cheerful (and humorous) post next time.