Shri Rama Gopalan , State President, Hindu Munnani
Shri S.Gurumurthy , Joint Convenor, Swadeshi Jagran Manch
Held on 5 th OCTOBER, 1996
From the atithi who comes to our door, to the cows in our backyard, from the crows that live in our neighbourhood, to the ants that scurry past us, Hindu tradition holds that all life forms have to be fed. Food and the act of eating and feeding others haveliever been a part of western philosophical discourse whereas Hindu philosophy or everything that we understand by the word Hindu, has accorded food and the yagna of feeding and eating, the highest importance and significance. There are strict exhortations to grow food in plenty, to share it in plenty and more importantly, to make an offering everyday to the Gods, to the manes, to feed the cow and the crow and the crawling, and to ensure that all those dependent upon us are fed before we sit down to eat.
The Hindu thought therefore militates against the very idea that a person has to work before he eats or that he has to earn his food and militates very violently against thfe idea thai, food is a privileged goal. Even today in several villages across ftie length and breadth of this nation, persons rendering the services of vidya daanam and vaidya daanam would consider it a violation of dharma to accept payment for the services rendered. We should not equate daanam as understood in Hindu tradition with Christian charity. Daanam in Hindu tradition is the act of giving in the dharma of sharing - be it annam, vidya or vaidyam. And it is a telling comment on the prevalent adharma today that food, education or the sharing of knowledge, and health care - annam, vidya and vaidyam have degenerated to mean privileges of the few and not only that, these are three of the most profitable and money spinning business today.
It is a shame that there should be hunger in this land of plenty and a civilisational disgrace that we can live in the midst of it, unconcerned and impervious to the starkness of hunger. The Center For Policy Studies in Madras, had arranged for a 'Dharmasadas' in October this year In Tirumalai on the issue of ANNABAHULYAM - growing of food in abundance and ANNADAANAM - sharing of food in plenty. The Dharmasadas was graced by venerable Acharyas from different parts of the country and on the concluding day, the Acharyas blessed the people of this nation and exhorted us to rid this nation of the shame of hunger through the dharma and prayaschitta of annadaanam.It is not a 'pluralistic', 'multicultural' and 'multinational' India, as perceived in the concepts and language of fragmentation and reductionism employed by our Marxists and secularists, which can get rid of hunger. Such an India with a secular mindset can never be rid of hunger. It has to be a Hindu nation, where people accept the dharmic responsibility of feeding all living beings, which can wage this war against the adharma of hunger. India is Hindu because it is tied by the umbilical cord to its tradition, which for thousands of years has emphasized the responsibility of sharing; particularly sharing food, not just with other people, but sharing food with all living beings. To wage this war against hunger, we have to speak about India and her people in a totally different language and first wage a war against those who speak about this nation with a fragmented consciousness.
ANNADAANAM - A Living Tradition Of This Nation
Presented By Shri Rama Gopalan
The Center For Policy Studies has undertaken upon itself a stupendous task. There are several research institutions in this country but most of them are inspired and motivated by western thinking. Such work does not smell of the soil of this land for these people have not imbibed into themselves the culture and values of this civilisation. But, daring to be different in this situation, Shri M.D.Srinivas and Shri Jitendra Bajaj have researched into issues of real concern and tremendous importance to this country. We owe them a big debt of gratitude. Recently they have conducted a study of several of our classical texts on the tradition of annadaanam. This is not a new concept for the people of this nation. If there is anything that will touch the hearts of the people of this nation it can only be something as fundamental as annadaanam.
There was a person by the name of Theperumanallur Sivan. He was also known by the appellation Annadaanam Sivan. On the occasion of Mahamakam, he would feed lakhs and lakhs of our people. At the time of this mammoth feeding, he would not take any of the food to his home and his family was not supposed to eat of the food at the annadaanam. When all the people had es'ten, he would role his body to and fro across the leaves from which the people had eaten. He believed that it was the Lord himself who had partaken of the food and this act of rolling across the leaves was his way of seeking the blessings of the Lord. When we feed somebody, when we ofrer annam as daanam, we do not do so out of pity or a sense of charity. We are not feeding beggars who come to our door. Annadaanam as Hindus practice it, can be performed only out of Bhakti. I wished to know more about this mahatma - Theperumanallur Sivan and so I approached one of the finest writers in the Tamil language - Shri R.Ganapathy. He told me that the Paramacharya of Kanchi has spoken of Annadaanam Sivan on several occasions and he also sent me a small booklet about Sivan. This booklet was published during the lifetime of Theperumanaluur Sivan himself.
It is a remarkable booklet. It tells us how Shri Sivan undertook this great yagna. A small piece of cloth was wrapped around his waist and another piece of cloth thrown over his shoulders. He would travel in a bullock cart drawn by a single bullock. He would enter a village and cast a look at all the people there. His cart would stop before a few select homes and he would ask somebody to send ten sackfuls of rice while somebody else would be asked to send a thousand coconuts. Everybody considered it an honour and a privilege to be asked to contribute and people waited anxiously to be asked. Annadaanam Sivan prepared thus for the mahayagnam of annadaanam. How he collected and preserved the curd for the feeding is a story in itself. He would seal the mouths of the pots which contained the curd and he would then roll them into the Mahamakam pond in Kumbhakonam. The curd would remain fresh and tasty even after four or five years when they would be removed at the time "of the Mahamakam annadaanam. I. read about all this in that remarkable booklet. The life of Theperumanallur Sivan is an inspiring example of how a single person had made it his life's tapasya to feed the lakhs of devotees who gathered at Kumbhakonam at the time of the Mahamakam.
Radha amma who spoke just before me, said something very beautifully and succinctly. There are three things not for sale in this nation. To do so is to be adharmic. Traditionally, we do not sell food, medicine or knowledge. Food, medicine and knowledge should be easily accessible to anybody .who needs it. And today all three constitute big business.
We have lost sight of what is really important. Society today esteems not the acher in a school or college, nor does it hold in high esteem the dispenser of native medicine. We are overawed by the men who build big hotels or colleges and those that run huge hospitals. But eur people in the CPS have unerringly found the pulse of this nation. Shri Bajaj and Shri Srinivas came to meet me to tell me about how necessary it is for us as a nation to reinstate the dharma of annadaanam. I was deeply moved and realised that these were people who were inspired by the atma of our rishis, and great bhaktas like the Alwars and Nayanmars, into undertaking this very important task. How else is it possible that these two men who are academics by profession would even consider taking up the cause of annadanam? Annadaanam is the life force of this nation; annadaanam is the visible face of this civilisation.
They requested me to take up the cause of annadaanam in Tamil Nadu in a big way and to bring it back into our temples. I want to do it too. The only hurdle in the way is that I am waging a war. A different kind of war. But I know that I should do my bit to wage this war against hunger and I would like to start the work in two places. In Rameswaram and in Srirangam. I spoke to some of my friends in these two temple cities in this regard. I told them that I would like all bhaktas and yatris who come to the temple and all sevavratis to be fed everyday. Ideally they should be fed a proper and full meal and that is the only proper thing to do too. I have no doubt that this noble tradition will definitely be revived in this country once again and my wish is that this dharmic tradition should begin soon in Tamil Nadu. But for now, even if we are unable to feed all devotees a full and proper meal, we should start the yagna of annadaanam at least by offering them two leaf-bowls of cooked rice. I asked my friends if it would be possible to start immediately in this small way and they have all assured me that it will be done. I am very sure that the these two great temple cities will soon revive the tradition of annadaanam.
In this connection, I wish to tell you all something, There is a temple near Villupuram - the Vakrakali temple. My friend took me there. I offered prayers at the temple and was later asked to write a comment in the visitor's book. There was only one thing that I wanted to write about. I wrote saying that the tradition of annadaanam should begin again in the temple. I told them that it will not be done because it was my wish but that one day some bhakta may read my comment and may be moved by bhakti to take up the task. When I said this, my friend who had accompanied me to the temple promptly accepted the responsibility for undertaking annadaanam at the temple for the coming month. Even as we were talking, a family which had come to offer prayers at the temple and which was listening to the talk, immediately offered to undertake annadaanam that same day. My friend had said he would begin from the following day and so this good family, not wishing to put off by even a single day, this noble duty of annadaanam, came forward spontaneously to begin that very day itself. Annadaanam is a powerful, emotive issue which alone can move the people of this nation to their very depths.
Swamy Vivekananda had also spoken about the need to revive the tradition of annadaanam. And on what scale did he want us to offer annadaanam? He said that the food offered should be so abundant that there should not be a single hungry person in this nation and the water drained off the cooked rice should flow like the sacred Ganga herself. What a dream and what a desire! If Swamy Vivekananda's grand dream were to become a reality, and it will become a reality I have no doubt, who will remain hungry in this land? Indeed, who can remain hungry? In immediate response to Swamyji's wish our communist friends and the English educated Brown Sahibs declared that this would be the surest way to create more and more lazy people in this country. These Brown Sahibs are the English educated among us who are more westernised than the white man himself. There are two kinds of the English educated people. There are those like Sir Srinivasa Sastry (whose mastery of the English language would have put an Englishman to shame), who remained Indians in their culture and tradition. Those of you who are gathered here, are like him. It does not matter that you are all English educated. Your legs are firmly rooted in the soil of this nation. But not so our communist friends and the more British than the British themselves who did not and indeed could not understand the native fragrance of the dharma of annadaanam. They even approached the Paramacharya of Kanchi and asked him if the annachatrams scattered around the country did not breed lazy and unproductive people. The Paramacharya was amused and asked them a question of his own. He wanted to know if there was any place in this country where there were no lazy people. Which government office in India is working efficiently, he asked. What work is getting done? There are people in arranged hierarchies, each one supervising the person below him on the ladder that no real work gets done, he said. No person works on his own initiative, no worker is self-accountable. So it is not as though there are no lazy people in this country and if annadaanain, which will feed the hungry, creates some more laziness, it will not make much difference to the work culture, he told them. He also told them of the reason behind the annachatrams in Tamrl Nadu and the Ootuparai in Kerala where people are fed everyday. If among the thousands that are fed everyday, we have been blessed to feed one punyaatma, one good soul, then it is the blessing that accrues from such a deed that brings rains to this land. He was a mahatma, a wise man, farsighted and penetrative in his reading of the people who came to have his darshan.
Annadaanam should therefore be revived in this nation again. Almost all temples in Karnataka diligently observe the dharma of annadaanam. There is a temple in Sringeri, the Annapoorani temple. I had been there a year ago. They undertake annadaanam for the yatris and not oftly that, they serve those who stay the night, with devotion and care. The Hindu Munnani has therefore taken upon itself the task of reviving annadaanam in all the big temples in Tamil Nadu. Our temples have been forcibly impoverished today. Most of them do not have the means to perform pujas to the presiding deity even once a day Then how will it be possible for them to undertake annadaanam, I am asked. Start the annadaanam somehow, I tell them, the means for the pujas will become available automatically. Once you undertake annadaanam, those that have not paid the temple its dues for lawfully^ or unlawfully occupying temple lands, will be shamed into paying them. There is a small village called Aathoor near the temple town of Tiruchendur. There is a vast expanse of land there and politicians are feeding off the temple lands like so many parasites by forcibly and amorally appropriating temple lands and leasing them to their loyalists for a fat amount. The temple was not receiving its dues and so a farmer's sangha was constituted. The sangha issued a directive to the farmers working on temple lands to pay the their dues to the temple forthwith; failing which the sangha threatened to take away the lands and cultivate them to pay the Tiruchendur temple its dues. Faced with the threat of losing their livelihood, the farmers who had illegally appropriated temple lands started to pay the temple its rightful rent.
And that is why I tell all temples to start the work of annadaanam immediately. It is a powerful movement with tremendous moral authority. Even the most cynical and the hard-hearted among us will respond to its emotive call. And he who partakes of the food at the annadaanam, he will not do so without being stirred from within. Once he has eaten his fill he will naturally want to do something in return. This is the way our civilisation functions. To feed everything that lives is a moral responsibility on all of us and because we are fed by those that care, it is our responsibility and the responsibility of all of us who eat, that we put back something into our communities as gratitude for the food we have eaten.
I reiterate once again, we should reinstate the dharmic tradition of annadaanam in this nation. There should be no hungry person in this country and even one hungry person in this land of plenty is a shame on this civilisation. Once when Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was undertaking a pilgrimage to Kasi, he passed through a village. The condition of the people of the village shocked him - torn clothes, haggard looks and their shrivelled stomachs told their own tale. He put away all thoughts of Kasi for the that those of us who are sangha sevavratis, da at kwe any sense of shame in asking for contributions. But wy soon, the shop owners in the area began to send rice, lentils, coconuts and whatever else they could. Annadaanam is the one issue to which all the people of this nation will respond spontaneously and contribute generously, even beyond their means. And they will respond no matter who asks for it.
Therefore what we need today are elderly people whose responsibilities to their families have been fulfilled and who can devote their time to this noble task. They should step out of their homes and begin to organize annadaanam in four or five temples in their own locality. Once we begin to do this, we will create dharmic human beings in our societies. I am convinced
The Challenge Of Hunger -ANNADAANAM Is The Only Solution.
Talk Presented By SHRI S.Gurumurthy
I must congratulate Vigil for the courage with which they have organized this programme. The subject is not one of those 'evening subjects'. I have myself addressed meetings in this very hall and other places on subjects which would be instantly more attractive, more telling, more current. But a subject of such great depth, such great reach which has immediate as well as lasting impact, has to have an audience which does not merely listen and goes home unaffected by the poignancy of hunger. It must be an audience which is going to become a part of the large movement being initiated in this country. We heard Shri Gopaiji talking of annadaanam and its historic association with us, with our tradition, its dharmic foundations and implications. Situated as we are today it seems as though it is far away from our minds and the ideals and practices currently valued by our society. It seems inconceivable that a group like The Center For Policy Studies and its associates could, in this situation, be even considering reinstating this great tradition. It seems inconceivable because we always extend ourselves from the present into the future. And at present this seems impossible because the world in which we live does not give us the insight or the perception to see into the obvious incapacity of the present to deal with this problem. Now I will take you a little away from dharma only to come back to it ultimately.
Sometime ago in the city of Rome, some of the world leaders gathered together to talk of the very same problem - hunger, and to strive to find a solution to it. In their Joint? declaration, which was presented' at the conclusion of the summit, they admitted that in twenty years time the world will still not be able to feed all its people. The Declaration mentioned that eight hundred million people in this world live in hunger. These millions either do not have anything to eat or may be eating something which conscientiously cannot be called food. They all eat something to live. Eight hundred million people. And the declaration says that by 2015, Wi. :h is 20 years from now, their attempt will be to bring down the number to four hundred million. Twenty years fro.J now we will still not be able to solve the problem of hunger, we will be able only to bring down the number. And this is the great ideal - to reduce but not eliminate hunger - that all these great nations have set for themselves. These are leaders of nations which spend billions of dollars on useless things which harm the society, harm the world and harm the environment, and they have the audacity to tell us all that twenty years from now, we can feed only another four hundred million people. Why is it that we are unable to come to grips with the problem of hunger?
WE HAVE TO THINK DIFFERENTLY FROM THE WEST
The reason we are unable to come to grips with the problem is, the way we are looking at the problem. The current perception and the mindset that perceives it, is not going to find the solution. You cannot look at hunzan life in the light of success, money, dollars, name and fame and from a self-centered stand pftfnt (hat holds 'everything is for me first' which is the way most of us think today, and expect to solve this problem. There should be a philosophic foundation for sharing; the very minimum that a person must be willing to share with another human being should be food. That is why Radha mentioned here that this idea of sharing of food is not a gift to us from the west or Christianity. We now have Christian and western ideas everywhere - western philosophies, western solutions.western economics, western politics, western methods of administration and western methods of arranging inter-personal relationships. In such an alien cultural atmosphere, the idea or the discipline that food is meant to be shared, would never occur to us. It will never be understood how we can ask a person to share food with another, not out of charity, but as a part of his own elevation. We will therefore have to think differently from the west and think in keeping with our tradition and ethos, if we have to solve the problem of hunger.
From this kind of approach to living, which is true of most of the world today, one thing is clear. That the present system of administration or politics or arrangement of world affairs or economics, has no solution to the problem of hunger and this is the admission of these great leaders who got together to discuss the problem of hunger. There were politicians at this meeting in Rome, there were economists and there were non government organizations, and all of them gathered together only to admit to this failure to find a solution. We in India, in contrast, have a living solution to hunger. Not only do we have a solution, I will make bold to say, that it is still the only solution. And a living, funcioning solution at that.
Now let us take Punjab. In Punjab, for the last 300 years and more, there has not been a single death due to hunger. There has been an unbroken tradition of public feeding or annadaanam in the thousands of Gurudwaras spread across the state; only it is known by the name of 'langar'. The food offered to the devotees and yatris is the prasadam of the Gurudwara. The devotees themselves cook and serve the food at the langar. Men and women from the most well- to- do families come there to cook, to serve, to wash utensils and to clean. This service is known as 'karseva'. Throughout the day and at any time of the night, any number of people can go to the langar to eat. Hundreds of Gurudwaras in Punjab and outside have this arrangement. And this arrangement has been made not from government responsibility but from the responsibility which the people feel as a result of the tenets of their Gurus. The sturdiest and the most hard-working people are to be found in Punjab. It has the highest prosperity and the highest per capita income in all of India. All those politicians, economists, administrators and the anglicised minds that lecture to us through the media day in and day out about how India has to develop only on the prescriptions of the west to remove hunger, need to take note of this.
But they will not acknowledge this because to do so would mean that they will be forced to alter their fundamental assumptions about this country. And one of their most fundamental positions is that this is a problem to be solved by the government, by officials and bureaucrats and by the policy resolutions of political parties. But the Indian way of tackling problems definitely does not involve handing over the problem to the government. According to the Indian ways of arrangement, people do not expect the king, the prime minister or the faceless state to make decisions concerning their day to day life or even to resolve their problems. The society's affairs were so arranged that the state was asked to handle only the residuary functions. Most of the functions of society - whether cultural, religious, economic or even political, at the level of the locality, was the responsibility of the people themselves. That is why, as Sri; Aurubindo said, there was sovereignty at every layep of our societies; whether it was the village community, the caste or work group, each collectivity had a certain measure of sovereignty in its functioning. In this arrangement, the inter institutional relationship was governed by dharma. It worked and continues to work to this day.
SHARING FOOD, THE HEART OF THE INDIAN CIVILIZATION
Sharing of food or Annadaanarn occupied, the central place in the private and public ethics of life in this country. And all our sacred texts testify to this. "Give food, Give food. Give food", this is what Srikrishna advises Yudhishtira in the Bhavishya Purana in his discourse on 'daanam' or the discipline of sharing, Yudhishtira asks Srikrishna to enlighten him about the essence of Bhishma Pitamaha's erudite discourse on dharma in the 'santi parva' of the Mahabharata. Srikrishna says, "The World, both animate and inanimate, is sustained by food..... The giver of food is the giver of life and indeed of everything else. Therefore, one who is desirous of well-being in this world and beyond. should make special endeavours to give foodF".
"Pood should be offered with venerable hospitalAy.Jp the old, the child, and the tired traveller", says Srikrishna.
Srivaraha says in the Varaha Purana, "One who gives food, gives all that is worth giving in this world".
The Taittriya Upanishad says, "Do not send away anyone who comes to your door, without offering him food and hospitality. This is the inviolable discipline of mankind. Have an abundance of food and direct all your efforts to ensure that abundance. And then announce to the world that this abundance of food is ready to be paftalceo by air.
The Aswameda Yagna of Dasarathas, the Rajasuya Yagna of the Pandavas, and all the great yagnas described in the Ramayanam, Mahabhaiatam and all the other Puranas testify to the importance of sharing food in abundance. The yagna of Harshavardana described by Hiuen Tsang, the Chinese scholor-traveller, is faithful to our tradition and indicates the same continuity - the sharing of food.
The concept of the 'Panchamahayagna' or the five-fold discipline of the Grihasta or the householder, the description of annam or food as the very first manifestation of Brahman in the Taittriya Upanishad, and the innumerable stories that extol the status of food and the elevation of annam as the first stage in the spiritu; '' and yogic journey symbolised by the 'annamaya kosa', have given to the people of this country a sacred heritage of the social, religious and spiritual tradition of food.
Food, in the Hindu tradition, was never an economic good - and neither was education and health-care. Annadaanam has been the core of all social, religious and spiritual practices and penance for the people of all faiths in this soil. Not just in theory, not just in books and literature, but in tradition and practice and as a part of the continuous flow of our civilisational consciousness. What began long before history has no record, but what has been extolled by the Srikrishnas, the Bhishmas and the Harshavardanas is testimony to the unbroken tradition of annadaanam in every Inch of Bharatavarsha.
THIS TRADITION FEEDS MILLIONS OF OUR PEOPLE EVEN TODAY
Now, we tried to estimate the number of people who are fed through annadaanam in dharmic institutions in different parts of this country. In Dharmasthala, for example, thousands of people participate in this yagna everyday. This civilisational tradition has defied the economics of competition, profit and atomization. Shri Heggade, he is the 23rd generation Heggade in the tradition, is the trustee of the Manjunatha temple. He is a Jain by religion and it is he who organizes the annadaanam there. At Dharmasthala, it is established custom that it is a part of the worship of Lord Manjunathaswamy to eat at the annadaanam. There is no giver and no taker at Dharmasthala. A person has not completed his worship of Manjunathaswamy until he has eaten. So eating of food is elevated to great heights here and this tradition continues to this day. Fifty-seven thousand people share the prasadam of Manjunathaswamy EVERYDAY. In several Gurudwaras in this country seventy thousand, twenty thousand, ten thousand people are being fed everyday. And as Gopaiji pointed out earlier, during any occasion or celebration, the first thing a Hindu will do would be to share food with the people in his community. And the first thing that the people of this nation ask of a person who has come is 'have you eaten'? This is in the very blood of the people whose roots are in this tradition.
Let us for the time being set aside the cultural, religious and civilisational aspects of aanadaanam and talk about it from the political and economic perspectives. World political leaders have accepted that they cannot rid this world of hunger and the best they can do is reduce the number which, in another twenty years, is going to be four hundred million people. For the last two hundred years, the people of this country have been persuaded to believe that the state is the ideal delivery mechanism which alone can solve all problems of the people. And this mechanism has now confessed that it cannot find a lasting and effective solution to the problem of hunger. The point to be noted is that there is not a word from any of our economists or academics or any one of the omniscient press people who write erudite articles on hunger, poverty and development that the problem is going to remain in very much the same position even after twenty years. Now that we have their confession that they cannot solve the problem, it is time that at least a core group of people in this country began thinking about how to solve the problem. There is no country in the world which is going to come up with an answer as compelling and effective as our annadaanam because you cannot inject or incorporate the concept of annadaanam into western thinking because such an approach is not a part of their philosophy, culture or societal systems. In short, it is not in their blood. But in this nation it is an integral part of a person's thinking, and what is nipre, it is there at the operational level too.
This tradition is a living, operational tradition in several social institutions, at different levels. It is not some extraordinary tradition about which you read in history books. This was a way of life of the ordinary people of our communities and it is therefore not an impossibility. And it is still a way of life. A rough estimate of the number of people who are fed everyday by some of the dharmic institutions of this country, would be a number equal to the population of Australia. One crore. It will be a tremendous service that we will be doing the world, if we compile the statistics of annadaanam that is happening in this country. We should announce to the world that through faithful adherence to tradition, through faith and by a man's inherent desire to share, not as a matter of charity, but as a dharmic responsibility, ten million people are being fed everyday in this country. And this, in spite of the government, and in spite of the 'modern, western thinking m this country working against it. The world should know about this living tradition.
THE INDIAN AND THE WESTERN WAYS OF THINKING
This is not an ordinary thing. I will tell you how a western mind works and why we cannot understand or accept it. Once, when I had to go abroad, I went to a restaurant with some people. When we had eaten, each person paid just his own bill, for what he had eaten. For what he alone had eaten. In India we see something quite different. When four friends go out to eat, there will be a four-way quarrel as to who will pay the bill. Each person will want to pay the entire bill himself. This is the Indian way. In the west, it is each for himself and this is accepted as normal. This is a civilisational difference - a movement in opposite directions. So, we have a system of administration, an economic philosophy, a political thought, that is powered by such thinking on the one side and on the other, we have a mind and a corresponding lifestyle which has been prepared by a ten thousand year old civilization which thinks differently. Western thinking can therefore never take root in this country. Which is why ordinary people in India accord our governments little legitimacy. And we are forced to accept an illegitimate government. In any other part of the world this continuous clash between the government and the society would take the shape of a bloody war; in India, it is a cold war. The government is up against all that the people of this nation believe in, up against what the people cherish. The people are therefore prisoners of the state.
WHY MALDISTRIBUTE - SAYS THE PRIME minister
Having confessed its inability to solve the problem lOC hunger, what does the government do to save face? 'The Prime minister of this country goes to Rome and deli'vers a speech which could at least have been better written. The speech is faulty on two counts; it is poor in prose and poorer in content. The man does not say a word about the starkness of hunger in India. He makes out that all the problem that we do have, is the problem of distribution and he is soon going to take care of distribution. And as for the hunger in the world, he promised to do his bit to solve it!! Our ostrich like attitude does not stop here. For years now we have been fudging figures in statistics on poverty to show reducing percentage of the people living below tt;e poverty line in India. They would have the country believe that there is no more than twenty percent of our people living below the poverty line. According to these figures, eighty percent of the people of this country are living a prosperous life. This is the kind of statistical fabrication that has been done for the last decade and even the media has been guilty of spreading the fiction. The present vice-chairman of the Planning Commission, Madhu Dandavate is an honest person and this fudging of statistics was unacceptable to him. Madhu Dandavate had only one thing to say. He said, instead of attempting to determine the percentage of people living below the poverty line by the wholesale price index, formulate the statistics on the basis of the consumer price index; because it is not at the wholesale price that people buy things but at the consumer point price. When that was done, the percentage of people living below the poverty line went up from twenty percent to forty percent. This happened just one month ago. The official statistics tells us that over forty percent of our people are living below the poverty line which means that they do not have any security with regard to food. And our prime minister tells the world that hunger is the world's problem and we will do our bit in solving this world problem. I wish to tell you all of the dangers of fabricating figures which can manipulate policy decisions, make our decision-makers complacent and present a rosy picture of our selves.
WE HAVE FAR LESS FOOD THAN WE ACTUALLY NEED
First of all, till around a fifteen days ago we were made to believe that the percentage of poverty had come down from forty two percent in 1984-85 to nineteen percent in 1996. We know now that this is not so and that poverty continues to remain at forty percent. Secondly, what is the quantum of food that a person needs so as not/to feel hunger? How much food grains does India need to produce so that nobody is hungry? You will all be amazed to know that today India produces 190 million tonnes of different kinds of grains and cereals. And this figure has remained stationary for the last four years because agricultural production has stagnated and come to a virtual standstill. And we are approximately 90 or 95 crores of people. So the average food grains available for every Indian (assuming that every Indian is able to afford to eat), is two hundred kilograms a year; that is, 200 kilograms putting together all food grains. This is supposed to be sufficient, according to the Indian Food Ministry. The food minister of India says this. In the year 1880 - over 115 years ago, the British government appointed a Famine Commission for India. The commission came to the conclusion that the minimum of food grains required per person, per annum, to prevent a famine situation, to prevent a person from starving, is 280 kilograms. Two hundred and eighty kilograms of food grains per person, per annum is the quantum determined by the British in 1880 to keep that person from starving. And the indigenous government, actually the same government, is saying 115 years later that 200 kilograms per head, per annum is adequate! I say the same government because in 1947, we changed the colour of the rulers but not the character. Our rulers continue to look at the problem of hunger in the same way as the British. Today, the government says an average of 200 kilograms is adequate. According to them the current agricultural production is adequate. And the food ministry says we should not produce more, because if we do, then food prices will fall and our farmers will be in trouble.
The Planning Commission came out with an estimate for the seventh Five Year Plan that we require a minimum of 240 million tonnes of rood grains by the year 2000. But the Food Ministry says no, a minimum of 200 to 205 million tonnes is sufficient because they continue to treat the British statistics as sacrosanct. And this fudging is going on with the support of our economists and academics and our elected representatives in the Parliament because they do not have the mind or the training to look at them problem differently. As a result, we are a nation which is growing food .at 35 to 40% of our efficiency and potential. Now if we tell this to our economists, parliamentarians or our agriculture specialists, they will tell us that they cannot encourage an increase in the food production.
INDIA PRODUCES FOOD ONLY UPTO 113 OF HER POTENTIAL
I now wish to draw your attention to a few facts. If you compare India with China which is much larger than India in its territorial area, or with any developed country which is producing an abundance of food grains, you will be amazed to know that India has the largest expanse of plain lands which is ideal for agriculture. China is three times as large as India but its cultivable lands are only two thirds of the cultivable lands available in India. Not only does India have the largest holdings of cultivable land, her soil has suffered far less degradation than most other agricultural countries and this was attested to by some Japanese scientists who visited India. Our top soil remains as fresh as it was two or three thousand years ago. And this is because of the traditional methods of agriculture which did not consider the soil to be just something to be exploited for production, but because the farmers of this land, like all of us, worshipped the soil as Mother Earth. Our farmers have always had an emotional relationship with the land. There are festivals to worship the land, worship the trees, worship the rivers and worship the cattle that help us to cultivate. It is a relationship which accords sanctity to the environment. And that is why this land is so rich in natural resources. India is the only country in the world blessed with an abundance of perennial resources. If you go to Uttar Pradesh and drive along from Allahabad, you will see only miles and miles of plain lands fading into the horizon. No other country has this expanse of plain lands. Secondly, India has sunshine for almost the whole year. Ten months at the minimum in some parts of the country, and in the rest of the country, for the whole year. In almost all other countries, sunshine is available only for four, five or six months. Some parts of the USA has sunshine for seven months but these are arid desert lands where nothing grows except cactus. So it is possible for us to grow food grains at least twice a year. Thirdly, there is no part of India which is not washed by some perennial river. We are not like Egypt with one river or like some other countries with half a river. We have rivers running across the length and breadth of this country like the veins in our body. Fourthly, if we take 1950 to be the cut off year, whatever increase in food production there has been, has come only from 30% of our total agricultural land holdings. Over 70% of our arable lands remain unused and untapped. Out of the 120 million hectares of land on which we are cultivating our food grains and other cash crops, only 42 million hectares are irrigated - just one thirds of our total land. !f agriculture were the priority of this nation, as it should be, it will not only producer an abundance with every person in this country being able to eat, it will produce enough to feed its neighbours too.
THE BRITISH DESTROYED INDIAN AGRICULTURE AND WE CONTINUE TO DO SO TOO
We have been brainwashed into believing that we cannot produce enough. A mindset has been created that we are capable of only so much. But palm leaf manuscripts of the eighteenth century and British records of the same period say something totally different. These records and manuscripts have been studied and analysed by the people in the Centre of Policy Studies and these findings have been published. I would suggest to you all to read the publication. The production of food grains today is 1.3 or 1.9 tonnes per hectare. This is all that we have achieved today whereas the British records and our own villa-ge records attest to a production of nine tonnes per hectare in some places and as high as twenty tonnes per hectare in others. And some of these are the records of early English travelers. The vital difference being, that whatever was produced, was used by the people according to the decisions taken by themselves in their community. But once the British assumed control of the administration, by the middle of the eighteenth century, they levied a revenue tax of upto 250% of the produce, and within a matter of thirty years, agricultural production fell steeply and came to a grinding halt.
The British administration's intentions were clear. They were out to destroy and humiliate peoples v/ho were prosperous, peoples who had established advanced civilisations. The entire Indo- Gangetic plain with an area of forty million hectares, has been ruined. If that area can be cultivated to its original potential, it will yield enough food grains to feed the whole of Asia. But fhe^conditton" in which the land is being maintained is nothing short of criminal devastation. We have allowed the entire area to be water-logged because we have bunted the Ganga in such a way that the water cannot flow back into the Ganga and for six months in a year sheets of water remain on millions of acres of land. In the last two hundred years we have so destroyed the productivity of the area that today it does not produce enough to feed even the people of that area.
Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the British have recorded the production in the Allahabad area to be 7.5 tonnes per hectare. Today it is less than one tonne per hectare. So, the problem of hunger and the fall in our productivity have to be looked into from a totally different angle. We need to think differently, the way we used to think before we started to move away from our tradition. And not in the way advocated by our text books, newspapers and government records. The problem of hunger is so acute that even the inert government has been forced to move and it has now undertaken a block by block study of the Indo-Gangetic plain to find out why the productivity of the area is only 10% of what it was, a hundred and fifty years ago. This country has the potential to produce nothing less than 500 million tonnes of food grains a year. It had the tradition, it had the hands, it had the technology and it had the seeds. And this was destroyed knowingly and deliberately to debilitate the nation and its people. If you talk to an intelligent audience in Madras and tell them that the British destroyed our agriculture and destroyed our economy, they will not believe you; because the British taught us English and that made us modern. And so I implore all of you to look at the problem in an entirely different light. To think differently. To think differently means to think the way we used to, for thousands of years. A thinking which has given us this precious heritage. In this country there are nearly 70 lakhs of people who are sadhus and sanyasis. Of these maybe only 10,000 are genuine. But we make no distinction between a genuine and a fake sanyasi. It is not our way. We feed all of them. If we tell the world that we feed 70 lakhs of people every day, not as beggars but as people who we think are superior to us, no economic theory will be able to accommodate this. Because it is a matter of faith and it has always been our tradition to feed sanyasis. We cannot look at it as economics. Because some things in life are not economics. The problem in Kashmir cannot be looked at from the economic perspective. It is the most uneconomical problem ever. If an economist were asked to find a solution to the Kashmir problem, he will say, hand over Kashmir to Pakistan. It costs us nearly twenty thousand crores a year by way of defense expenditure, by way of subsidies, by way of this and by way of that. Just as the personal life of a person is not just economics, the national life of a country can also not be seen only as economics. Economics is only a part of our lives and as we move farther and farther East across the globe, it becomes a smaller and smaller part. So we have to think entirely differently. Our perceptions have to change, our mindset has to change, our attitudes have to change. Poverty and hunger are two different things. I can live with poverty. Personally, I have lived in poverty. I have lived in hunger also. There are days when as a student I have remained hungry. Being poor and bring hungry are two different situations. This society should never allow anyone to remain hungry. This is not the function of the government, this is the function of our hearts. If this message reaches 10% of Indians, the 40% of our people who are hungry today, will not be hungry for long. But our mindset is, this is not my responsibility, it is the responsibility of the Prime minister and the Government that there is hunger in this country. This mindset has to change and this is what the family tradition of this country teaches all of us. I know that until about 1964- 65, when I was living in my village, the women of every house will come outside their homes to wait for an atithi until around twelve o' clock. They will go in to eat only after that. The reason I am saying this is to drive home the point that it was, and still is, a living thought.
DHARMA AS THE DELIVERY MECHANISM
It is economically feasible to feed the hungry in this country, not through the state as the delivering mechanism, but only by the dharmic tradition of our societies. There is no other way we are going to resolve the problem of hunger. And every one has a role in this movement.
The roles are self-assigned. That is the exemplary nature about our tradition. Dharma is never imposed. It is an unenforced but voluntarily accepted and self-evolved code of conduct or rule of law, if we must use English words to describe it. And the assertion of India as a civilisation is conditional upon the ordinary people of this country assuming this responsibility upon themselves. Our temples have to revive, our mutts have to revive, our people have to own up to this tradition. It is possible. Five and a half crores of people go to Sabarimalai every year. Lakhs and lakhs of yatris are fed by thousands of people. As you go to the north, there is an annual Kavadi procession as people trek to the point from where the Ganga begins to flow. They come back with the sacred water on their shoulders, walking hundreds of kilometers to and fro. Dotted all along the route are public kitchens where ten to twenty thousand people are fed. Ordinary people like us form committees and do it. This tradition is alive in every nook and comer of this country. This is an invaluable heritage that this civilisation has given us. If it is not in the blood, it cannot be injected into the system by writing books or making speeches or using the advanced technology of the electronic media. We already have it in our consciousness. All that needs to be done is to trigger off the movement so that the ordinary people of this country can become conscious of this tradition once again. Once this is done, it will not be twenty years or ten years before we resolve the crisis of hunger, it can be done within two to three years.
If we start to do this, it will release ait enormous amount of dharmic energy and this will take care of the people lying destitute on the roads, under the trees and all those others who are uncared for. If we can feed these people, they will begin to stand up and move and India's villages will once again become alive and thriving. Once we solve the problem of hunger, other problems are more easily solved. So, the CPS has taken upon itself or it has been persuaded by destiny to take upon itself a study which links the traditional with the modem, that is, it connects the tradition of annadaanam to the problem of hunger that is modem in time. If this message spreads to all sections of our societies, it will soon become a major social movement which alone can resolve the problem of hunger in this country.