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

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