Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Malnutrition and children of Delhi: A healthy meal is a dream for millions of children in India

In our first article in the series on malnutrition and children in slums, we came across the dismal situation in which a majority of children live in Delhi and various other parts of the country. In this article we interact with the families and try to understand their point of view on the situation.

It is very easy to find slums in the National Capital Region (NCR). A slum settlement can be found anywhere where there is a construction going on in the NCR. Most of the labourers are migrants from the various villages of India- mostly from Bihar. Each temporary shelter of six-by-six is home to a family. In most cases the husband and wife work as labourers, earning a meagre daily wage. There is no security of job, no permanency of employment. And they also have children to look after.

Dharmendra, a daily wage earner working in the Sultanpur area of South Delhi lives with his family in a temporary shelter built by the contractor near the site where a multi-storey building is being built. His house is a small one room compartment made of tin and bricks. There is a common bathroom for everybody in this temporary slum area.

“Who wants to live in this condition? Who doesn’t want to provide better food to his child? But maybe this is not possible for people like me.” said Dharmendra referring to the condition and ill-health of his two children- a boy and a girl, in the age group of less than five years old. “My son is a weak child. He falls sick every other day. We do not have enough money and time to visit the doctor. It takes one entire day if we visit a doctor with him, which means loss of income for the day. We cannot afford that. We take the child with us to the construction site and try to take care of him there. I am not sure, but I do not think he will survive for a long time.”

When asked about the food they provide the child, Dharmendra’s wife, Sunita said, “We make him eat what we get to eat. But I know that children in this age require better food with more protein and vitamins, but those foods are expensive. What we earn is not enough for our family. And we also have to save the money for some work in our villages. So normally we provide the rice and chapati we make for everybody. But both my children like “Maggi” and “O’Yes” more than anything else.”

The area near Sultanpur has a few shops, informs Sunita, where one can still find Maggi, though it has been banned by the state government on the grounds of heath safety. “But it is cheap, and fills the stomach.” Sunita adds.

In the same area Roma lives with her family. Roma is a maid and works as a house help in many houses in the area. Roma has three children- two girls and one boy. “Nutritional food is something we all want to eat and provide our children. But the cost of vegetables and other foods is increasing day by day. I am the only earning member in my family. My husband recently lost his job. How can I think of good food when there is no way I can ensure two meals a day to my family. Life is not fair.”

Dharmendra offered me water in his home, as it was a comparatively warm day. As I brought the water near my face, it smelled. It had a pungent smell, which can not be described by the words I can write. I could not drink the whole water. When I asked about the smell, Dharmendra said, “What smell? Maybe you are not used to this kind of water.” And it was a big revelation of class division between me and Dharmendra.

Children deserve a better life. Not only children but the families living in sub-human conditions as well. Because only when every family lives a decent, hygienic and healthy life, we can think of collective growth. A GDP growth without the development of many Dharmendras, Sinitasand Romas– and their children- is no growth.

Looking forward to a better tomorrow.

In next article in the series we shall contact various officials and authorities responsible for the betterment of the people living in sub-human conditions, and try to understand the hurdle which has not been removed for decades.


This article was first published by on July 8, 2015

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