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Taking Stock
Stoned to Death
By Rizwan Ullah

Rizwan UllahA number of deshbasis in Orissa are reported to have died of stone eating. Yes, they ate kernel of mango stones. They were doubly fortunate: Those who ate the pulp could not eat the stone kernel although they can digest the kernel of the harder coconut and other mini nuts quite costly but still in regular supply in attractive gift packets or in decorated baskets and chests to those who matter in all matters. Moreover, they were fortunate in getting mango stone kernel which helped them survive for a few more days of their unbearable existence. But unfortunately for them by the time of their final departure the grain overflowing government granaries was not rotten enough to disgrace them by its supply. However, Orissa government has done one great service to the people of India. It has discovered the real causes of death of those reported to be dying of starvation. According to that discovery they suffered from diarrhoea and some other debilitating and viral diseases. This discovery could be possible only because Orissa has made great strides in medical and other sciences since it emerged from the stone age less than half a century ago when steel plants could be established in Bhilai and Rourkela. After having announced the latest discoveries the stone hearted sphinxs stone walled themselves at safer distances farther than the stones throw from the people so that they could see no evil (the dying people) and hear no evil (the wails of the dying people).

In olden days when scientific discoveries of that magnitude had not touched the Indian shores in Orissa and Bengal all the people dying of various diseases were categorized as starvation deaths. Thus a huge number of starvation deaths were recorded in famine like conditions. The media, then known as press only, had also not made multi-dimensional strides as we know of today which enabled it today to discover skeletons in the cupboards of every other VIP house and goes up to the extent of Hawala and Tehelka nuisance. Thus the great famine of Bhopal in the early years of 1940s was said to have claimed lakhs of lives, in spite of making some efforts I could not find actually how many lakhs. I could guess about fifteen lakhs at the outer limit. But recently the Nobel laureate economist Dr. Sen disclosed that thirty lakh people had died in that famine. Unbelievable, in those war days rice was selling 12 annas per seer, about 80 paise per kg. I don't know if there was any agitation over such a great disaster. Every body was busy in war games or the imminent political game in the country after the war ended. I don't remember any formidable agitation during the concluding years of 1960s when Bihar was in the grip of a famine but the starvation deaths of high magnitude were not recorded for the US supplied free food for Bihar for about ten months. Incidentally, a survey after a year or so showed that during that period of food scarcity and free supply of grain crime rate shot up, the explanation was that the people getting free grain had some spare money which could have been used for buying country liquor and hence rise in crime rate. Parts of Orissa are perennially prone to food shortage due to alternating flood and drought so the state government could have connived with the centre in keeping the people of the state in a permanent state of food shortage by denying the relief so that they continue to be God fearing and being deprived of hooch do not go along with the devils among them who roast minority members alive and raze or burn down their places of worship.

However, it is reported that the starving people caught at every straw before their final dip. They had nothing to lose except their hunger and poverty. They had nothing to sell except their offspring to get some money to be able to face the agony for a few more days and also to spare their loved ones the pains they had been suffering. Who knows what luck would be awaiting them in future for man has found many uses of men dead or alive, many uses of the human stuff from limbs to the skeleton.

Natural calamities and poverty are not exclusive to India. They do occur almost everywhere in the world in various ways and forms depending upon geographical and geological conditions beyond human control. But what is special about India is the fact that our administrative and economic structure is maladjusted from the day one after independence. We inherited these structures which had been designed to meet the needs of the alien rulers. The mammoth monolith not only remains the same it has rather become stronger and has gathered more bulk. We inherited a scarcity oriented economy partly resulting from the post war conditions and partly due to the British policy of discouraging India's industrial development. Thus our government machinery is scarcity oriented and hence tends to imports. So we have been importing food and technology and became so used to it that we could not cope with the surplus food when it was produced as a result of imported technique, imported fertilizer and imported input. Hence surplus food is rotting with no export market and no system to deliver it to the areas whereever and whenever it is needed most. Expectations are roused only to be belied later. It happened to farmers, it happened to scientists and now it is happening to IT expectants. It has grave portents.

Let us lighten our heart with an anecdote: A certain poet of Persia having heard of the generosity and munificence of Moghul kings set forth for Delhi. It was dusk when he arrived at the city gate so he decided to spend the night by the side of the walls of Shajahanabad. He slept with his meagre belongings beneath his head. When he awoke in the morning he found no trace of his sack. At last when he could reach the darbar in his bewildered and dishevelled state he narrated his condition in a Persian verse which said: I have only my ears to keep underneath my head and only my eyelids for a cover. Obviously, he was generously treated by the king. By the way, he had no children. But the dying Oria had children to be sold unmindful of their multifarious future uses.

Of uses: Once I happened to see a report on exports from Calcutta port. The list of items included crates of medical accessories. On opening one of the crates it was found full of human skeletons.

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