In India, there is a fight, more than against the coronavirus, against the specter of hunger and poverty. Human rights activists and Christian volunteers made an appeal to the government to ensure that food supplies are guaranteed to the poorest and those who have lost their jobs due to the prolonged lockdown of all activities, decreed by the government, to contain the coronavirus, from March 25 to June 30th.
Jesuit Father Irudaya Jyothi, involved in a campaign on the right to food in the state of West Bengal, highlighted several anomalies to Fides News Agency with regards to the public distribution system managed by the government especially for the needy. “Unless these gaps are addressed, people who starve will multiply”, he stresses. The priest also said that some time ago the media reported that the poor have no food, “but the government does not seem to be concerned about it, and instead plans to produce ethanol from wheat grains, as reported in the state of Haryana”.
Capuchin Father Nithya Sagayam, former secretary of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India, tells Fides that “the current urgency is to provide food to the needy”, observing that “the government has the task of finding new ways to deal with poverty during the health emergency as the economy is declining dramatically”.
The Catholic Church in India is doing its best to provide food for the most vulnerable groups and internal migrants, who in the past three months have moved and faced long journeys to return to their countries of origin.
Among the many assistance activities carried out, the “Board for Research Education and Development” (BREAD), a Christian NGO based in Noida, on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border, managed by the Indian Missionary Society, provides one meal per day to about 36,000 students and disadvantaged children in 75 schools in Jharkhand.
In Bombay, western India, the Canossian nuns feed the poor with the help of lay volunteers, Sister Lavina D’Souza, director of the Mumbai Social Center tells Fides. “The recipients – she notes – are families of day laborers, unemployed, domestic workers and other people who have plunged into poverty in Bombay”, she points out.
The widespread lockdown imposed on the nation because of Covid-19, in fact, will push at least 12 million Indian citizens into extreme poverty, says the World Bank in a Report that monitors poverty in the world. According to estimates by the “Center for Monitoring Indian Economy”, an independent think tank, about 122 million Indians were jobless in April.
Ashwajit Singh, chief executive officer of “IPE Global”, a consulting firm in the development sector, a consultant to several multinationals working in India, noted that in the nation “people could starve to death more than the virus”. Singh cites a United Nations University study according to which 104 million Indians may fall below the World Bank-determined poverty line of $ 3.2 a day for lower-middle-income countries. This will bring the overall percentage of people living in poverty in the Indian nation from 60% (currently 812 million) to 68% (920 million Indians): a situation that last occurred in the country over a decade ago.