Saturday, May 1, 2010

HUNGRY REPUBLIC OF INDIA

As booming India goes crazy over slimming centres, weight loss gadgets and obesity-curing wonders ... the future of the country stays hungry and malnourished, helplessly looking at the present for help as it dies everyday...

One-year-old Harinder, who is suffering from severe malnutrition cries in his mother's lap.


Finally, I get down to updating my blog, which has been lying stale for a few weeks now…This is a very special story to me…

A few weeks back I packed my bags again and traveled into the interiors of the country with my Chief Photographer Reinhard Krause. The intention was to look for stories that stay neglected by the media; stories that don’t get the ‘numbers’ because the audiences responsible for the latter, are too busy with their own lives to bother about such matters. These stories, however, give me the strength and confidence to pursue many more such subjects relentlessly.

For our latest excursion, Reinhard and I traveled to remote villages in the state of Madhya Pradesh’s Sheopur and Shivpuri districts and Uttar Pradesh’s Bundelkhand region. The subject was the pathetic condition of children suffering from extreme malnutrition.

Our first stop was Sheopur. All four villages that we visited here had one thing in common - hungry and malnourished children in almost every household. It was shocking to see the state that these children were living in.

Our second day’s visit to Shivpuri was no less dreadful. The district’s child malnutrition levels have been compared to that of countries like Ethiopia and Chad by international agencies.

In this district, we met Harinder --- just one year old and weighing only 3 kilos (6.6 pounds). But what was disturbing was that Harinder had cure lying at his doorstep but with no access to it. Tonnes of grains lay outside the toddler’s hut but he couldn’t eat it, as it belonged to the upper caste. Harinder’s family is from the lower caste and work as laborers on the fields owned by the upper caste.


One-year-old Harinder, who is suffering from severe malnutrition lies on the food grains 'owned' by the upper caste.

20 months old Rinku, who weighs just 4 kg and suffers from severe malnutrition, lies in his mother's lap while his another malnourished brother sleeps in the background.

Rinku is weighed by his mother as the local health worker looks.

18-month-old Urmila, who is suffering from severe malnutrition, in Bundelkhand region cries in her mother's arms.





26-month-old Ranbir, who weighs just 5 kgs and suffers from severe malnutrition, with his mother Munni in the Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre of Shivpuri.

A rare smile.

 A malnourished child waits for food in Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre of Shivpuri.

A mother feeds her malnourished child in the centre.


A severely malnourished child sits in his mother's lap in the state of Madhya Pradesh.





The ‘caste factor’ plays a major role in the deteriorating health of these children. A health worker who was from the upper caste was not willing to attend to Harinder because the boy was from a lower caste. We went to the village where this health worker lived and took her to Hirender’s house so that she can weigh him and give him some nutritional supplement. This was the least we could do.

  A malnourished child in one of the villages in Bundelkhand region.

Before landing in Madhya Pradesh, we’d thought of malnutrition as a simplistic problem with an obvious solution – sufficient food. But we soon learnt otherwise; the problem, we realized, has socio-economic dimensions too.

What seems to be suffering in the bargain is India’s future ... as it grows weaker everyday, crawling helplessly towards a slow but persistent death. 


 A severely malnourished child lies on a bed in the Nutritional Rehabilitation Centre.

Monday, March 15, 2010

An EYE for an EYE


Mahatma Gandhi famously said: "An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind".

But even he'd be proud to note that that may not be the case always ... like in Madurai. In this temple town, the eyes of a few good people are giving vision to those who have been deprived from seeing the beautiful colors of the world.


An organization called Aravind Eye Care System (which I am sure most would'nt have heard of) has been providing free eye care to the poor in rural India where otherwise even basic medical facilities are hard to come by.

Headquartered in Madurai, the Aravind Hospital draws visitors from all over the state of Tamil Nadu. With the support of its benefactors, it has treated 29 million patients so far.  
It is a less-known statistic but India is home to 25% of the world’s blind. Every year at least 4 million Indians develop cataract that is a major cause for blindness

                                                  
 

Efforts of organizations like Aravind,which have selflessly worked for the poor, need to be applauded in a country where good healthcare remains a luxury in the absence of government initiative towards making it a basic right of the citizen.


Do try to check their website: http://www.aravind.org/

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

India's very own 'AVATAR'

Last week I travelled to a remote place in India called Lanjigarh, which is located in the state of Orissa. It was a trip I'd been looking forward to for a few months.
I am sure you'd have heard/read of how mining, sometimes illegal, is destroying the remaining forest cover in India and displacing tribal communities living in these forests for hundreds of years.




This is a story of one such primitive tribe called the Dongria Kondh that lives in Orissa's Niyamgiri Mountains, which are part of India’s Eastern Ghats range. These tribals have been fighting a nine-year long battle for survival against British mining giant Vedanta Resources, incidentally owned by an NRI (non-resident Indian).
The story is simple yet complicated.




Vedanta wants to mine the bauxite (raw material for making aluminium) in the Niyamgiri Mountains, which are worshipped as God by 8,000+ tribals that reside here and have never known any other home. These tribals, like any of us, cannot allow the destruction of their home.
But Vedanta has the Orissa state administration and police under its control. It is trying very hard to gain control of the mountain. There are scores of human rights violations that are taking place against the tribals on the behest of the company. The tribals are up in arms ... the administration is calling 'Maoist influence'.
I reached the Niyamgiri Mountains after hours of trekking; I stayed with the tribals there. The tribals are a very shy people; they keep to themselves and have very little to do with the 'developed/developing' India. Their existence is restricted to their home...the mountain. They come down from the mountain only for one thing ... salt. The rest, Niyamraja God takes care of, they believe; they will not allow their God to be humiliated for a company's profits.




Vedanta is getting desperate. The company that has already started its aluminium factory at the foothills is running into losses, as it has to get its bauxite from a long distance. Meanwhile, Niyamraja is sitting tonnes of bauxite and teasing Vedanta. I guess the former knows ...his children, the Dongrias, will die for him.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Humanity floods Ganga





That day was finally here. After reading about it in the papers and watching images of it on television since childhood, I was there myself. It was the start of the Maha Kumbh Mela. A unique congregation of humanity had converged on the holy city of Haridwar.


As I stepped into the town, I could already sense the special status given to it in Hindu mythology. Right from the railway station to the Ghats, there was only one color...orange. On the Ghats, one thing that I saw immediately and which didn’t surprise me at all was the image of a mother treating her children equally; whether they be rich or poor, fair or dark, boy or girl, Ganga Maiyya (Mother Ganga) had stretched out her arms for all. You know that when you immerse yourself in the waters, it is like crying and seeking comfort in your mother's lap. You want her to forgive you for your sins and she being a mother, she does so without questioning.



































The Ghats of the Ganga were buzzing with devotees everyday while I was there. At least five million devotees from India and across the world are believed to have taken part in the first phase of the ritual bath.The Maha Kumbh, a three-month long affair, comes around once every 12 years.


I have concentrated my post this time completely on the holy dip. I will be going to Haridwar on every holy bathing day for the next three months, endeavouring to capture ---- however difficult as it may be ---- the many sights and colours of the Maha Kumb. Until then…Ganga Maiyya Ki Jai !