Church, temple, mosque, gurudwara & hunger

The food security bill, masterminded by the Sonia Gandhi-headed national advisory council (NAC), that seeks to guarantee that 63.5% of India’s population don’t go hungry and translate the Congress party’s 2009 election manifesto promise, has drawn plenty of criticism on either side of the political divide.

From Narendra Modi to Shiela Dixit, chief ministers have opposed key clauses of the bill.

In other words, the bill is unlikely to face fair weather in Parliament, which means the onus of feeding India’s poor, destitute, disabled, elderly and homeless will continue to be on religious charities, which are sporadic, not very hygienic or wholesome, and often test the dignity of the receiver.

NAC member Harsh Mander, who chaperoned the food security bill, says only 4% of homeless persons depend completely on these religious charities for food.

He writes in today’s Hindustan Times:

# Feeding the hungry is deeply valued in all Indian religious traditions. But we found these traditions eroded, mutated or abandoned in shining 21st century Delhi. We were surprised to find no destitute feeding centres run by churches in Delhi….

# Many Hindu temples serve food, but this is usually oily, sweet and served only on fixed days. (There are fine exceptions, like the Hare Krishna temples.) The ‘giver’ seeks divine merit, but is not interested in serving the receiver’s needs….

# We found dignified forms of charity in the Nizamuddin Dargah and the Sai Baba Temple. Here food tokens are purchased by donors from hotels, with a validity of a month, and distributed to the destitute. A person can later exchange these coupons when hungry and in need at the eatery, and is served food worth the cost of the coupon. Less dignified, in Jama Masjid, we found many people seeking food charity patiently seated on their haunches outside dhabas which line the mosque, waiting for persons who pay the dhaba owner for the number of people they want to feed….

# Traditionally, the most wholesome food served with greatest dignity has been in the langars in Sikh gurudwaras. People are seated together on mats laid out on the floor in single lines, and food is served in this dining space in unlimited quantities.

However, we found that these egalitarian traditions abandoned in the capital’s main gurudwaras. Gurudwara Sis Ganj Sahib in Chandni Chowk, at the centre of the largest concentration of homeless people, actively bars the ‘dirty poor’ from entering the langar.

Bangla Saheb, near Connaught Place, also blocks them from entering the temple and eating at the main langar, but it has a separate langar for them at the rear, outside the temple precincts, serving the same food but without the same respect. We enquired from the managers about this departure from the core of Sikh teachings, and they justified it by claiming that the homeless defile the temple, because they smoke and drink.”

Read the full article: Unpalatable truths

Infographic: courtesy Hindustan Times

Also read: Soul kitches of soul as soup kitchens of stomach

Everybody loves a good number: 93, 77, 54, 33…

P. SAINATH: India is a nation of two planets: rich and poor

U.R. RAO: Rising India’s share of poorest is growing

Everybody loves a cheap, vegetarian thali

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17 Responses to “Church, temple, mosque, gurudwara & hunger”

  1. A Journalist Says:

    This Harsh Mander does know anything about temples in Udupi- Mangalore districts. Almost all temples serve a good quality free food, twice a day all through the year.

    The only bad thing is separate seating for Brahmins.

  2. harkol Says:

    Food security, NREGA etc. are living examples of metaphor of ‘giving the fish’ instead of ‘teaching to fish’. Our rulers will keep folks fed at a subsistence level, but won’t allocate money to education & infrastructure, which can allow them to ‘fish themselves’.

    Nehru-Gandhi parivar are like the monarchs, who want their ‘praja’ to be able to survive, but never prosper. Only ‘lords’ are allowed to monopolize property and wealth.

    The plebeians (or aam admi) are only required to hail the Queen (or King, prince etc.) and the plaudits payed to upliftment is only to the extent to keeping the privileges of Monarchs are unchallenged. A more educated & prosperous ‘aam admi’, will not care for a powerful monarch (like what happened in most of Europe).

    Just check the facts. Between 1991-2004, Gandhi family had little control of affairs of state. And that is also when the most of reforms took place.

    A lucky break in 2004, put Monarchs back in control. And they went about the business of making lords richer and Plebeians poorer.

    And the name Monarchs have given to that system – Socialism. A system where India has 1/3rd GDP of China but more billionaires than China. A system which suffocates genuine merit, entrepreneurial spirit.

    If anytime India are to progress, Gandhi family has to take a back seat and let true democracy function in this country.

  3. Anitha N Says:

    Yet another attempt by the idea bankrupt Congress and its Head to lure the voters. Feeding the poort, et al is a noble task indeed. But do we have the resources to do it? By resources I mean both money and foodgrains. One estimates put the financial burden on our exchequer at Rs.200,000/- Crores. From where will the government find money for this? And mind you, this is a recurring expenditure. Every year, the government has to keep spending this kind of money to keep up its promise. Who is going to foot the bill is anybody’s guess.

    More importantly, look at the social ramifications a stupid thing like this is going to cause. As it is, the NREGA scheme has made it very difficult to get labour in the farm sector. Who wants to work when the government is doling out free money? Now imagine what happens when food security bill comes up!

    Plus also note the food grains promised is not per household. It is per person. So where is the incentive to keep our families small? Is this not more important to tackle than feeding the masses?

    The kitchen cabinet of Sonia, aka NAC, is the root cause for all this nonsense. When you have people weilding power without responsibity, the results are these kind of half baked and stupid ideas which pushes the country even more into the abyss.

  4. Nastika Says:

    @harkol, I like your fish example.

    About billionaires,
    India – 55 or 5 per 100 million population
    Chile – 115 or 9 per 100 million

    There are few more factual mistakes in the post, such as,
    1) There is year on year growth in per capita income till date.
    2) Percentage of poor has gone down.
    If poor are getting poorer, then how is are (1) & (2) possible?

    PS: I not backing Gandhi family. I just wish to hear credible evidence.


  5. karihaida Says:

    What about the output of food security bill ? Who will take care of the extra excrement that will be generated due to this bill? Is that also part of this bill ?

  6. harkol Says:

    Nastika: As i mentioned in the post – absolute poverty (as in not being able to afford a bread loaf) is reducing. Subsistence is being assisted by the govt. (1) & (2) are examples of more people being able to subsist.

    Just because you have higher per-capita doesn’t mean everyone gets it. Having high number of billionaires and a lot of poor, still makes for high-percapita. define poor as folks who can’t afford basic necessities of life – Food being at the bottom, clothing, Housing, Health and Education.

    Govt. defines poor by affordability of Food alone. This will create a drag on our economy as we progress.

    What is needed is a more proactive, let’s prepare gen-next policy. We can’t head into next decade with high number of illiterates or badly educated folks. What we need to do is give targetted subsidies to ensure no one dies of hunger, but in the meanwhile provide quality free education with Job oriented training till 10+2.

    Great roads to improve transportation of produce, and a market free of middle men. A good land usage policy to facilitate reduction in Urban land prices. Good roads will unlock lot of land for housing as well.

    Our power production is stagnating with most parts of our country facing power cuts all thru the year. BESCOM has mandated one day mandatory off for Industries in Bangalore, designating a particular day for an area, to manage power. So much for industrial growth. Next couple of years, our govt. will plan on shutting industry for two days a week!!

    Our priority at present should be Education & Infrastructure, so that within our generation we can achieve massive employment. Food security will come with economic choice.

    If you doubt the what I said about Gandhi’s check what Congress promised for Education allocation in 2004 manifesto, which hasn’t been met even today. They killed/slowed most Infrastructure projects (including Vajpayees Golden Quadrilateral). haven’t de-regulated power or education, and land usage laws are decades old.

    Most reforms did happen between 91-2004. that’s a reality.

  7. janamajeya jangama Says:

    10000 students at siddaganga and many thousands at murugharajendra and many shaivagama mathas are the origins of ‘daasoha’ and churumuri as always sadly quotes temples , churches and other vedic ritualistics sthaavaras who have been constant centres of religious fights and corruption
    shame on being such dumb ambassador.
    this is why guru linga jangama culture never gets mention anywhere because people who learn from it patent it to themselves like Hare Krishna temples who started as a rich man’s timepass.

  8. harkol Says:

    Nastika: I wonder why you chose to use Chile as a counterpoint. Chile is another worst example of a nation ruined by supposed Socialism and Oligarchic system. Dictatorship, Family power transfers etc. etc.


  9. pdk Says:

    Anitha N,

    But do we have the resources to do it? By resources I mean both money and foodgrains. One estimates put the financial burden on our exchequer at Rs.200,000/- Crores. From where will the government find money for this?

    India’s GDP is around USD 1.7 trillion dollars (at current prices: link). The cost of fulfilling the Food Security Act will be around USD 37 billion. That is 0.22% of the GDP. Not very big. The number itself varies according to who is talking.

    Quoting from an article by Jean Dreze (who used to be part of the NAC) (The task of making the PDS work):

    Incidentally, India already spends more than that sum on things that are rather trivial compared with the right to food. I am not just thinking of military expenditure, which could do with some pruning, especially when it is being used also for internal repression. The fertilizer subsidy is in the range of one lakh crore rupees a year, with doubtful social benefits, not to speak of the environmental damage. And the annual “revenue foregone” on account of tax exemptions is more than five lakh crore rupees, according to the Finance Minister’s own “Foregone Revenue Statement.” This includes about Rs. 80,000 crore of corporate income tax foregone (some of it “on account of contributions to political parties”) and nearly Rs. 40,000 crore of foregone customs duties on “vegetables, fruits, cereals and edible oils.”

    He is arguing for an “universal pds at least in the rural areas and urban slums”. Tamil Nadu already has one.

    As he notes in a Tehelka interview ‘The middle class has lost track of how poor this country is’:

    The Planning Commission is proudly talking of “infrastructural investment” to the tune of $1 trillion in the 12th Plan, about half of that would be public money. $1 trillion! That’s astronomical: nearly 10 percent of GDP, year after year. But for food security, 1 percent of GDP is considered extravagant — that’s not “investment”.

    There needs to be increased investment in education, infrastructure , no question about it. They will have an impact over time. Helping the people who are starving now should be a top priority.

    By the way, food security was on the Congress manifesto. So this is democracy actually at work.

  10. Venkatarama Muthuswami Says:

    Food security should be seen as an essential element of social safety net, that even in very advanced well to do societies is found necessary and provided with integrity , dignity and efficiency.
    In the socio-economic situation and in a society divided and wrought with all kinds of social maladies, such a security and safety net is most essential for human survival.
    Can this country is capable of providing the minimum to keep its people from going hungry to bed is indeed a great challenge. Unfortunately this country and its present rulers find such humanitarian needs as opportunities to squander and loot, and yet aspires to be a super power in the near future.
    What a tragedy and shame.

  11. Anitha N Says:

    The food security bill is like a pandora’s box, which when opened, we cannot contain the evil it is going to unleash for a long long time.

    While the notion that no one should go hungry is noble, practicality is different. Government’s duty is to provide a platform where people will start earning more through better employment opportunities. This means that the government has to ACTUALLY work, It should have innovative thinking, out of the box ideas to propel the economy into the next level. Sadly, this government lacks these. Hence it is trying to take the easy way out of clinging to power.

    One of the main reasons why Pranab Mukherjee wanted FDI in retail is because, to quote his own words, ” I need money for developmental projects”. From his words it is very clear that government does not have money today. If this is the ground reality, from where will it find money to subsidise this huge bill? Either it has to sacrifice real development work or increase the tax rates to a higher level to offset the revenue being diverted. I am not sure if the government has the will power to antagonise the middle class yet again by raising the tax rates. The only option left is sacrifice the development work.

    In order to pander to the egos of Sonia and Rahul and their naked desire to hold onto power at any cost, we the people of this country will pay a very heavy price if this bill is passed.

  12. pdk Says:


    The government has to work for sure. But since we are at this point, even after various different governments came and went, where people are starving, it needs to ensure that people don’t starve.

    Quoting from the Food Security Bill (,

    the Supreme Court of India has recognised the right to food and nutrition as integral to the right to life; and further specified variously the corresponding duties of the State

    I’m not sure how Pranab Mukherjee will get money for developmental projects by allowing FDI in retail. How will Carrefour investing, say, $100 million in setting up a chain of stores translate to central government revenues? Please explain.

    As to where will it find the money, please look at my earlier reply. As my earlier response showed, the extra cost is just 0.22% of our GDP. And the government is misspending/foregoing lots of money. I’m sure Pranab Mukherjee can find a way being the veteran that he is.

    Also, as I mentioned earlier, this is a policy which they campaigned on and hence, presumably, elected for. So why should they be shy of passing it?

  13. Anitha N Says:


    Both AIADMK and DMK are giving away free tv’s, fans, computers, rice, spices etc to the poor people of the state. The result is in the last ten years, finances of TN have taken such a bad beating that government is being forced to hike the prices of essential commodities by a huge margin. Milk prices got hiked, electricity prices are high and the debt of the state government is spiralling out of bounds.

    And both these parties had promised these freebies in their election manifesto. So? Who is paying the price for this? The people of the state. All these years, TN government survived despite having poor finances because the DMK government could blackmail the central government to pump in funds. Where will it go now with two unfriendly parties in power at two places?

    States can go the central government for assistance, where will the central government go if it needs money? Borrow more. If the borrowing is resulting in some kind of nations building activity, which also results in the income levels of the poor going up, it is good. This food security bill ensures that our people remain poor forever because it is not creating economic upliftment for them.

    Everything promised in election manifesto need not be followed if it is against the interest of the country. And food security bill is definitely against the interests of this country.

  14. Nastika Says:

    @harkol, its a typo. Its not Chile, but China.

    In 1980s, NT Rama Rao fixed rice at Rs 2 per Kg. Current AP CM, Kiran Kumar Reddy announced rice Rs 1.

    Coming to Food Security Bill, in the market I find rice priced between Rs 15 to Rs 150 per Kg. Not sure which variety of rice is Govt planning to give at Rs 2.

    PS: Its not that poor are going hungry without rice from this scheme. What if the recipients reject the rice since its bad quality?


  15. pdk Says:

    Anitha N,

    1. That is the system we have. Politicians come to power because people vote them in. People vote them in because they expect to see a net benefit from a particular politician/party coming to power. In power, either the elected officials will fulfill the voters’ expectations or not. If not, he will be voted out. He won’t make unrealistic promises next time.

    If you are saying that politicians/parties should lie to come to power, then I don’t agree.

    2. Let us look at TN’s finances.

    Public debt:

    It has a public debt of around 1 lakh crore rupees. That is around 22% of GSDP, well within the 24.5% limit stipulated by the 13th Finance Commission.

    What is the public debt of Karnataka? Around 1 lakh crore rupees, with a smaller GDP than TN.

    What is the public debt of Gujarat? Around 1.22 lakh crore rupees, around 22% of GSDP.

    What has been the trend of fiscal deficit in TN?

    1.01 per cent in 2005-06, 1.61 per cent in 2006-07, 1.34 per cent in 2007-08, 3.01 per cent in 2008-09 and 3.44 per cent in 2009-10.

    I would say that TN is living well within itself, at least as well as some other states. Nothing is spiralling out of bounds.

    3. Electricity utilities and their financial problems are being faced by all states. Rates will be increased to bring them some relief. As to milk, I remember milk in Karnataka being hiked several times in the recent past. But where are the associated freebies for me?

  16. harkol Says:

    Nastika: I didn’t check my facts, I had read somewhere that China had less billionaires than India, apparently not in 2011!!

    But, by economic ratio we should have had 1/3rd Billionaires of china on the basis of GDP, but that’s not the case. We seem to be neck to neck. And 2 Indians find place in top 10 rich, while none from china. By economic ratio with US we only have 50 billionaires, we have more that 2 times of that.

    Food Security: I feel producing more food than demand is food security, not having a bill!

  17. pdk Says:

    Less generous

    The tight-fistedness of Indians when it comes to giving the needy has been laid bare by its poor ranking on the World Giving Index. It stands at the 91st rung of 153 countries whose people were surveyed for monetary donations, volunteering time or helping a stranger.

    Although India boasts of the largest and most vibrant economy in South Asia, Indians have emerged as the least charitable in South Asia. We like to boast how much better off we are than Pakistanis. When it comes to philanthropy, however, Pakistan beats India hollow. It has been ranked 34th.

    As for Sri Lanka, which is still recovering from the effects of a costly civil war, it is way on top at the 8th position.

    Food for thought.

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