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5000 – 208 – 3.4. These are the number of children under five who die every day-hour-minute of malnutrition and malnutrition related disease. These diseases have fancy names: Kwashiorkor, Marasmus etc and the signs of malnutrition are many from moon and simian faces to dry eyes and bleeding gums; from enamel mottling teeth and brittle light hair to wasted muscles and skeletal deformities; from distended abdomen to poor memory. Next time you stop at a red light and a beggar child raps at your car window with his hand extended just look up and you will see some of all of these signs. Malnutrition also weakens the immunity of the child and thus s/he is likely to get infections and water related diseases. The children die of such diseases because they are map nourished.

One child dies every 17 seconds. Imagine how many will in the time it takes you to read this post. But I guess it will still seem surreal to the likes of us because we know this cannot happen to our love ones. So a statistic that should send us in a rage does not because we look at it dispassionately and remain unperturbed.

But this statistic, the one that SCREAMS at us at one child dies every 17 second because of being malnourished should actually make us hang our heads in shame and express our anger as this would not have happened if Government programmes that are three decades old and have been  paid by each one of us, had run properly. I am referring to the Anganwadi programme under the ICDS scheme.

This week a leading magazine runs an article titled Dying Malnourished In The IT Hub! It exposes how the outrageous way in which the ICDS programme runs in Bangalore. The article refers to death of three children six months ago that had led to a huge public uproar, forcing the state government to promise measures to ensure that no child in the city dies from inadequate nutrition in the future.

You guessed right: nothing has changed on the ground. The Anganwadis (creches) that are supposed to play a crucial role in combatting malnutrition are in an abysmal state. According to activists mid-day meals were not served in any of the anganwadis in Bengaluru for three months from January to March.

The article runs us through the action plan that had been drawn in the light of the outrage. One of the decisions was to open 40 anganwadis.  Nine months after the meeting, not a single anganwadi has been opened by the state. Not even a building has come up. Responding to a Right to Information (RTI) query, ministry officials said that they are still in the process of recruiting teachers for the anganwadis. The minister was unavailable for comment.

How do you react do this. I am speechless.

The question that comes to mind is that if food was not served where did the money go. What is interesting to note is that in spite of a Supreme Court judgement pointing out that that the involvement of private players as middlemen in food distribution schemes is a violation of the law and add that such initiatives have led to disastrous results, including corruption, the mining giant Vedanta was given the responsibility to distribute mid-day meals to 2 lakh children in four districts. Recently  the government decided to involve private companies in mid-day meal distribution in three more district. And to add insult to injury in 2012, a probe by the Karnataka Lokayukta had revealed that officials of the women and child development department were syphoning off funds meant for mid-day meals in connivance with the contractor, a company called Christy Friedgram Industry.

What do you call humans who feed on starving children!

I have often written about this issue and am writing once more because that is the only weapon I have. We have a new Government at the helm and it is promising to rectify matters but it is no easy task. How do you stop those who have tasted blood. And even with all the goodwill in the world a man and his team, however honest and motivated cannot handle the rot alone.

It is for us to take up the cudgels on behalf of these poor children and lend them our voice. There are anganwadis in every area so as concerned citizens why not visit them and ensure they work. We have the skills required and the persona that makes us heard. But will we do it or keeping on avoiding the eye of the beggar child every time we stop at a red light.

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To the manor born