Right to Food Campaign
January 10, 2003



DELHI, 10 JANUARY. Hundreds of people from hunger-affected communities around the country gathered today at Delhi University to present testimonies of their life experiences and assert the right to food. This public hearing was attended by a large crowd of students, concerned citizens, government officials and eminent personalities including Amartya Sen, Mahasweta Devi, Arundhati Roy, Mark Tully, Aruna Roy and Deepak Nayyar, among others.

This event was convened by the support group of the Right to Food Campaign, an informal network of individuals and organisations committed to the realisation of the right to food. More than fifty organisations from twelve different states were represented at the hearing.

In his opening address the Vice-Chancellor of Delhi University, Professor Deepak Nayyar, stressed the importance of the event in giving a voice to marginalised people in Indiaís lopsided democracy. This theme was reinforced by Amartya Sen in his keynote address. Professor Sen stressed the role of democratic practice in eliminating hunger, and the need for "vigilance" and "determination" in challenging the present situation. "We should not take the problem lying down", he said, "but join forces to speak up and protest".

Professor Sen also emphasised that while the manifestations of extreme hunger, such as starvation deaths, were "local", the responsibilities involved went beyond local institutions and even encompassed the central government.

The testimonies highlighted different ways in which hunger blights peopleís lives, and also the failure of the state in protecting the right to food. Murari bhai, a Sahariya tribal from Baran, related how four members of his family died of hunger. He was the only earning member in the family and spent three months without work. The household survived by eating sama (a wild grass) until his father, wife, child and mother died one by one. The police sternly told him to deny that these deaths were due to hunger or face the consequences.

"Our biggest fight is with hunger," said a homeless child from Delhi. "We never know where we will get our next meal." He explained how he had lost his self-esteem by queuing for leftover food outside hotels and wished he could simply work for a living. More than fifty stories like these were heard over the day, leaving the audience stunned with the extent of hunger in contemporary India and the inertia of the state in this respect.

In his summing up of the proceedings, Jawahar Mahto from Jharkhand stressed that secure employment was the best protection against hunger. The point was amplified by Aruna Roy of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, who called for a nation-wide employment guarantee act.

The meeting concluded with a resolution summarising the main demands emerging from the discussions (see note: Call for Action). During the next few days, delegations of participants will be taking this resolution to various political leaders, including the Prime Minister, the President, and the Leader of the Opposition Mrs. Sonia Gandhi.

The participants are resolved to continue the struggle for the right to food. As Mahasweta Devi put it, "in this world you cannot get anything without fighting".

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