Pictures for reflection: India
One in every third malnourished child lives in India. Three-year-old Mukesh is one such child; he suffers from Grade IV Malnutrition, weighing only 5.5 kilograms. Mukesh’s father, Mr Ram Lagan, belongs to the Chamar community of Bhaisa village, Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh.
While Mukesh was at the Pandit Din Dayal Upadhaya Hospital—where he was admitted on 13 November 2007—his case came to the attention of local human rights activists. The appalling conditions of Ram Lagan’s family have made it nearly impossible for him to take care of his son; he already sold his three-wheeler cycle to pay for Mukesh’s earlier treatment. The People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights, (PVCHR) took over his care, but there were concerns that without specialist medical assistance, Mukesh was likely to die soon.
After this information was publicized through the Asian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) Urgent Appeals system, Dr Lenin of the PVCHR was contacted from the office of Mr Rahul Gandhi, son of Mrs Sonia Gandhi, enquiring how Mr Gandhi could help the child and his family. Dr Lenin expressed that Mukesh urgently required specialist medical treatment, while long term support was also needed for Mukesh’s family and other families within the Dalit community facing similar situations.
Accordingly, Mr Gandhi made arrangements for Mukesh to be examined by a child care specialist, for his opinion whether Mukesh could be shifted to a hospital in New Delhi for treatment. The specialist confirmed that it is safe for Mukesh to travel to Delhi, where he is to be admitted at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, which is among the most advanced medical facilities in the country and in Asia.
Such action by Mr Gandhi, as well as by the local human rights activists, is to be credited. By providing assistance to Mukesh, they have protected his right to food and right to life, which are in fact responsibilities of the state. It is appalling therefore, that the PVCHR and Dr Lenin are being threatened for their work in reporting cases of hunger and starvation. (For more information please see AHRC UA-335-2007.)
Mukesh’s family is entitled to 35 kilograms of rations from the local Public Distribution System shop under one of India’s numerous welfare assistance schemes, the Antodaya Anya Yojana. Not only is the distribution of rations irregular however, but the rations also do not provide adequate nutrition, especially for infants.
India also has government run centres—Anganwadis—where nutritious food and primary medical care is expected to be provided to the poor children. It is also a place where the staffs are expected to keep records of the general health conditions of rural children who visit the Anganwadi. These records are vital because they are also used by the state governments to take policy decisions regarding medical care for rural children. Like many children however, Mukesh was not registered at the Anganwadi centre in his village.
The Anganwadi staff are trained in adopting World Health Organization protocols. These include the continuous mapping of severely malnourished children in villages, the regular weighing of children with the involvement of mothers, referral services and home visits by Anganwadi helpers. In particular, children with Grade III and IV malnutrition are to be monitored for signs and symptoms of infections and referred to relevant health centers for treatment. The staff of the Anganwadi in Bhaisa village are terribly negligent however, resulting in numerous incidents of starvation deaths. Moreover, such negligence is not limited to Bhaisa. Neglect of duty and lack of proper accountability of primary health care staff is in fact common throughout India. The AHRC in the past has reported several cases where poor children from rural backgrounds have lost their life due to such neglect. See http://www.foodjustice.net/ for details.