Food Insecurity

The “national shame” of malnutrition is a politically institutionalised, invisible shame of long standing

01 February 2012
A volunteer weighs a malnourished child at the Apanalay centre in Mumbai. A recent survey released by the prime minister reveals that 42 percent of Indian children are malnourished, half of them severely.
RAJANISH KAKADE / AP PHOTO
A volunteer weighs a malnourished child at the Apanalay centre in Mumbai. A recent survey released by the prime minister reveals that 42 percent of Indian children are malnourished, half of them severely.
RAJANISH KAKADE / AP PHOTO

ONE MORE REPORT ON MALNUTRITION has been released to confirm what we already knew. Going by the recent survey conducted for the Citizens’ Alliance Against Malnutrition, which was released by the prime minister on 10 January, 42 percent of Indian children are malnourished, half of them severely. We were again reminded—this time by Manmohan Singh and the dozens of news headlines that carried his remarks—of what he called our “national shame”.

But what is this shame? It’s not about our having so much malnutrition. It is about why we didn’t reduce India’s malnutrition levels, despite our claim to be the second-fastest growing country in the world. Our high growth rate—of more than eight percent, give or take—does not seem to have made a dent in the number of our malnutritioned. That is the national shame.

Why did India’s handsome GDP growth rate fail to improve its social indicators? The answer is: Partly because it was accompanied by increasing inequalities. Consumption inequality in India, as measured by the Gini coefficient, increased secularly from 0.30 in 1993-94 to 0.36 in 2009-10 because we failed to include the majority of our citizens in the growth process. The employment created between 2004-05 and 2009-10, for example, was a mere one million, as against the projected estimate of 60 million. Creating employment is the surest way of ensuring inclusive growth: not only does it increase output, but employment that is gainful also serves a redistributive purpose.

Don't want to read further? Stay in touch

  • Free newsletters. updates. and special reads
  • Be the first to hear about subscription sales
  • Register for Free

    Himanshu is assistant professor of Economics at the Centre for Study of Regional Development, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

    Keywords: malnutrition food security inequalities growth children poverty food distribution
    COMMENT