Globalization? Trillion dollar economy? Shining India? Think again. The country is way down on many indices, it is known. Hunger and malnutrition haunts it despite the several revolutions white, blue or green. After a decade and a half of economic reforms, there is near stagnation in poverty rates. The reduction momentum witnessed in the last decade seems to have petered out.
The Global Hunger Index released by the International Food Policy Research Institute ranks India as the world's 24th most malnourished country.
The war-ravaged countries of Serbia and Lithuania are better off. So are people in the cold deserts of Mongolia. Tiny nations such as Surinam and Honduras have got a better handle on it and so have large diverse countries like China and Brazil. India, in comparison, is failing miserably to tackle hunger.
The index captures three dimensions of hunger: insufficient availability of food, shortfalls in the nutritional status of children, and child mortality, which, to a large extent, attributes to undernutrition.
The index includes three equally weighted indicators: The proportion of people who are food energy deficient as estimated by Food and Agriculture Organisation, the prevalence of underweight in children under the age of five as compiled by the World Health Organisation, and the under-five mortality rate as reported by UNICEF.
The IFPRI report says "in India and Bangladesh, high rates of child malnutrition are main reasons for high GHI values relative to Gross National Income per capita". Low status of women in the region and their lack of nutritional knowledge are important determinants of high prevalence of underweight in children.
IFPRI researchers have concluded that more educational opportunities for women must be created in South Asia and similar regions to address their inadequate knowledge and low status, which contribute to high child malnutrition rates.
Predictably the disaggregated picture too has nothing much to cheer about Even Punjab, the food bowl and the best performing state within India, came off worse than countries like Gabon and Vietnam.
Of the 17 states that researchers measured on the index, Madhya Pradesh came off the worst. Compared internationally, it could not measure up to even strife-torn countries of Africa such as Congo, Rwanda and Sudan. It was marked as facing an "extremely alarming" hunger crisis.
Almost 60% of the children in Madhya Pradesh below the age of 5 were underweight, the authors calculated. In Bihar, they computed 56.1% to be malnourished. Punjab might be the grain bank of north India but almost one-fourth of its children below the age of 5 were found to be underweight.
Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, all relatively more advanced, are facing an "alarming" situation on the hunger front. Not one state in the entire country was performing well enough to be taken off the danger list, the report said.